The Senate Ethics Committee curiously found only one villain in the Senate's role in the savings and loan scandal - Alan Cranston, D-Calif. The committee decided to pursue disciplinary action against him alone among the "Keating Five" senators who got mixed up with S&L high-flier Charles Keating.
Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan collapsed in April 1989 and left American taxpayers with the bill of nearly $3 billion, the largest in the thrift debacle. Keating also sold more than $200 million in now-worthless junk bonds to some 20,000 unsuspecting customers in Southern California.Keating was able to run amok for so long because he applied pressure in high places. The Ethics Committee failed to zero in on those pressure points.
One of Keating's minions, attorney-lobbyist Margery Waxman, was handled by the Ethics Committee with kid gloves, despite the fact that she was Keating's representative in Washington.
Waxman, once a high-level official of the Treasury Department, left public service and ended up at the Washington office of the Chicago law firm of Sidley and Austin, part of Keating's stable.
Keating bought Lincoln in 1984 and converted it from a traditional home-mortgage company to what many federal regulators consider to be a federally insured casino.
Within a few months, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board proposed regulations that would have rolled back many of the investment options that tempted Keating into the S&L business in the first place.
Keating would later say that he spent more than $55 million in his war against federal regulators. A chunk of that went to lawyers like Margery Waxman. What did those lawyers do for Keating?
In 1988, when Keating was trying to get the Bank Board to transfer the oversight of Lincoln away from the San Francisco regional office of the Bank Board, Waxman wrote in a memo to Keating:
"You have the board right where you want them. I have put the pressure on (Bank Board Chairman Danny) Wall to work toward meeting your demands and he has instructed his staff: `If they mess up this time . . . it's all over.' "
Another letter from Waxman to Keating, dated Jan. 22, 1988, advises Keating against suing federal regulators before he gives the lobbying process time to work.
An examination by the Bank Board's San Francisco office had left plenty of questions unanswered about Lincoln's operations. The examiners had recommended that Lincoln be shut down, and Keating was demanding a new examination from another regional office.
Waxman told Keating there were other options instead of a lawsuit:
"If you can't reach a settlement with Dochow (Daryl Dochow, the Bank Board's chief examiner in Washington) that resolves the exam, moves us to another district and gets their support to stop the SEC and Justice investigations, then launch your nuclear offensive."
It was a big list - stopping two federal investigations being the biggest of Keating's problems. Questions concerning that and other Keating activities could have been put to Waxman when she testified to the Ethics Committee, but they were soft- pedaled.