The case of the Keating Five not only shows the immense power of wealthy individuals in congressional affairs, but it shines new light on the shameless pursuit of campaign funds by members of Congress.
In truth, they approach the wealthy - hat in hand.What the Keating hearings do - aside from the question of ethics by the people involved in the S&L case - is focus new attention on the country's long-standing need for campaign financing reform.
During the five weeks of hearings by the Senate Ethics Committee, Keating has emerged as just one of many wealthy individuals who routinely are asked by members of Congress to bankroll their campaigns.
Apparently, U.S. senators often skirt the appearance of impropriety by brazenly asking total strangers for huge sums of money and by pressing previous donors for additional contributions to a variety of campaign-related activities.
Senators Alan Cranston, D-Calif., and Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., for example, regularly telephoned dozens of the nation's richest men and women, asking them for contributions ranging anywhere from $25,000 to $1 million. Such actions might be construed as wearing a "For Sale" sign.
Even though the senators have steadfastly maintained that they never agreed to do anything improper in exchange for these contributions, the Ethics Committee has unearthed dozens of memos and letters indicating that members of their staffs often saw a direct trade-off between the money and favors that the senators performed for their contributors.
It is clear that senators, who must raise an average of $12,000 a week for their re-elections, no longer expect it from political action committees or individual donors. Political action committees may donate no more than $10,000 to a single candidate, while individuals may give no more than $2,000.
Instead, they depend increasingly on rich men and women such as Charles Keating, who are willing to give much larger sums. Unlike political action committees, such individuals are not required by federal law to report their activities to the Federal Election Commission.
It is up to Congress to correct this gigantic flaw in the system - not by obligating the taxpayer to pay for campaigns - but by closing the loopholes that permit the wealthy few to "buy" U.S. senators, and senators to camouflage the money.
Limits should be set on the amount of contributions allowable from wealthy individuals and they should be reportable.
Finally, American campaigns for office should be dramatically shortened. The British and Canadians have proved that credible political campaigns can be waged in two months - a great money saver - instead of the two years it often takes in America.