There Ought To Be a Law

November 22, 1991

Sen. Alan Cranston says he and his lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, have evidence that several senators did exactly what he was found guilty of -- closely interweaving campaign contributions and official activities. But he won't name names. The smarmy shadow of Sen. Joe McCarthy must be smiling down on his old stomping grounds. McCarthy's declarations in Senate speeches a generation ago that his inquiries had produced evidence of Communists agents in the State Department and elsewhere, whom he would not name, put a new and ugly word in the dictionary, "McCarthyism."

Senator Cranston's behavior in this last (we assume) stage of the so-called Keating Five investigation was unbecoming. His charge that others engage in behavior similar to his own would not be a defense even if he had the backbone to name names and present his so-called evidence. His argument -- if only there were public financing of congressional campaigns, senators would not have to deal with the Charles Keatings of the world -- was pathetic.

What a weak excuse he gave for his actions: since he broke no law and no Senate rule, he should be spared the indignity of being rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for "repugnant" behavior. A U.S. senator ought to know that there are "well-established norms of behavior," as the Ethics Committee report put it, that are "commonly understood" by senators. As Ethics Committee Chairman Howell Heflin said of wrongful acts in this area, "senators know it when they see it." Once they see it, they should not do it. Senator Cranston did it and deserved TC rebuke.

In fact, he deserves more. The full Senate has always in the past voted to censure a member found guilty of such serious actions. In Senator Cranston's case, it agreed to a reprimand by the Ethics Committee only. We assumed this was because the senator is retiring in a year and has cancer. But there were innuendoes in the debate that the Senate agreed to this procedure to avoid having Senator Cranston make an all-out attack on his fellow senators. Just as there were some Communists at State, so there probably are some senators who don't know a corrupting relationship with a rich campaign contributor when they see it, or don't care. They don't want their behavior subjected to a messy floor fight.

Now that such a floor fight has been avoided (or so it would appear: some senators, angry at Senator Cranston's comments, are muttering about re-opening the case), the Senate ought to take a good look at this ludicrous situation. Neither the Senate rules nor the U.S. criminal code appears to forbid the sort of favors Senator Cranston did for Charles Keating (and vice versa). There ought to be a rule. There ought to be a law.

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