Few people in the nation's capital have as much reason to stay glued to the Keating Five hearings as Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.
The New York Republican could be the next senator squirming in the Senate Ethics Committee hot seat, and some Congress-watchers think the Keating case may give glimpses into D'Amato's future.Since July 1989, the panel's staff has been examining a complaint that D'Amato exploited his public office to steer federal contracts and other favors to his contributors and political friends.
In the Keating Five investigation, the ethics committee is studying whether Sens. Donald Riegle, D-Mich.; Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Alan Cranston, D-Calif.; and John Glenn, D-Ohio, were swayed by more than $1.3 million in campaign contributions they received from Charles H. Keating Jr.
Keating had asked the five to intervene with federal regulators on behalf of his Lincoln Savings and Loan, which subsequently failed.
On a basic level, the charges against D'Amato and the Keating Five are similar: All are accused of trading their influence for political contributions. All have denied any wrongdoing.
"In terms of what Keating Five means for D'Amato, the short answer is everything - because if the committee chooses to do nothing or do little in the Keating Five case, then they have pretty much set a precedent by which they will handle subsequent things," said David Mason, a scholar with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
"If, on the other hand, any one or several of the Keating Five senators are disciplined in any substantial way, then that's going to mean they'll take a serious look at D'Amato," Mason said in an interview.
But Stephen Gillers, an ethics professor at New York University School of Law, said he thinks the committee may be unable to avoid being tough on D'Amato because the charges against him are more serious.