Watching the Senate Ethics Committee hearings on the Keating Five is instructive. It's a spectacle of lawyers trying to decide a moral issue. That's like convening a group of Mafia hitmen to discuss the differences between first- and second-degree murder.

A non-lawyer, non-politician wouldn't have any trouble at all recognizing the difference between constituent service and intervening with federal regulators on behalf of a constituent who had dropped more than $l million in your pocket.The alibis of Sens. John Glenn, John McCain, Dennis DeConcini, Don Riegle and Alan Cranston wouldn't be so ridiculous if they had told Charles Keating, their benefactor, "Look, you're a constituent and I'll give you the same assistance I would give anybody else. You don't have to pour money in my campaign for that and, in fact, since you're in trouble with the federal government, it wouldn't be proper for me to take it."

Keating at least is under no illusions. He put the matter plainly when he said, "When they stop helping, I stop giving."

So much for disinterested support for good government. So much, in fact, for the illusion of good government.

What the Senate Ethics Committee is really trying to do is weasel off the hook, perhaps by dumping on one or two of the Keating Five, while continuing to justify the profitable business of government for sale.

Anybody but a lawyer and a politician can recognize an obvious conflict of interest. If you're on the banking committee and you take money from bankers, it's a conflict; if you're on ag and you take money from agricultural interests, it's a conflict and so on.

Unfortunately, since Congress has disregarded the Constitution and now regulates and taxes every conceivable aspect of human existence, if they take money from anybody, it's a conflict of interest.

The conflict is the same whether the money comes from a sleazy savings and loan operator or from a do-gooder political action committee. The point is that public policy should not be based on who gives and how much.

What we have in this country today is government of the big bucks, by the big bucks and for the big bucks. If your pocket or purse is thin, your chance of influencing your representative on an important issue is nil.

Don't buy the baloney that the poor politicians wish they didn't have to raise so much money. The election process is entirely in their hands, run according to the laws and rules they write. If they wanted to decrease the cost of campaigning, they could do it. Other industrial nations run elections without astronomical sums.

No, they designed the present system and they like it just fine. It provides them with job security and a comfortable lifestyle.

Perhaps the American people like it just fine, too. They certainly don't seem inclined to stir their rumps off their sofas and come out on election day to change it.

But however the Senate ethics hearings come out, you can bet your family jewels that no real reform will result unless the public raises heck and scares the senators into cleaning up their act.