The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, May 06, 2005

The Keating Five: more back-story washes in with the tide

There is one respect in which the law has it over politics: judicial precedents of any lasting significance are formulated in a way useful to posterity, written down, collated and stored accessibly [1].

One can go back to the year-books of the medieval English monarchs back to Edward I [2] for reports of cases.

With politics, nothing is systematically recorded. Corruption scandals, for instance, get their fifteen minutes; but, unlike famous cases of the US Supreme Court, getting to know of their existence, and finding a concise statement of the facts, is generally a job of work [3].

Thus it's no surprise to come by chance across the Keating Five scandal - which involved John McCain - and four other - Democratic - senators.

The story from 1987 concerned the Lincoln Savings and Loan then owned by Arizona property developer - and McCain contributor - Charles Keating: the S&L came under investigation, and the Five intervened with the regulator. Keating was later convicted of fraud and enjoyed a stay at Club Fed.

It's not so much the details, but the fact that the affair had not registered with me, that I find puzzling.

(The online format best placed to catalogue scandals like the Keating Five is probably Wikipedia: its current list of US political scandals is lightweight, to put it mildly.)

  1. For those with Lexis or Westlaw. For the rest of us, not so much.

  2. Published by the Selden Society, most notably. A number of volumes are available as etexts on Gallica - with parallel Law French text and modern English translation.

  3. For example, Truman's second term was marked not only by the proliferation of actual and supposed Commies (foreign and domestic) and efforts to stem the tide, but also a number of financial scandals in the administration, one (from memory) involving the Reconstruction Finance Corporation that was a holdover from the Hoover depression years. Having looked, there seemed to be only scraps online, so I lost interest.

    One advantage of following the Red Scare and civil rights stories of the same period is that they did generate judicial decisions which are (some of them) reasonably accessible.


Another McCain wanabee-scandal from 2000 was, I find, that of WQEX-16 Pittsburgh, which an outfit called Paxson Communications wanted to buy [1]. (McCain received contributions and the use of a corporate jet from Paxson and its executives.)

(Lyndon Johnson, of course, showed the benefits a legislator could derive from working the FCC - though, with KTBC Austin, those benefits went straight in Johnson's pocket!)

The suggestion from Timothy Noah is that, for McCain, WQEX is a bum rap: he intervened to ask the FCC to make a decision, but did not suggest what that decision should be.

According to the Post, Paxson's lobbyist on the matter, Lanny Davis (formerly a legal flak catcher for the Clinton White House), got Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer, Tom Udall, and Ron Klink to go one step further than McCain and actually urge the FCC to approve the sale.

That would be the same Steny Hoyer, now the House Minority Whip, who was part of the delegation of shylock-lovers who berated Nancy Pelosi for her unfavourable comments on their loan-shark-rimming (April 28) during the passage (!) of the bankruptcy bill S256.

  1. A reprint of the Times article referred to in Noah's piece. The Post article, under hed McCain Defends FCC Letter; GOP Hopeful Urged Action on Donor's TV Station Purchase, is nowhere to be seen, outside the pay-wall.


Why should stories of John McCain and questionable practices have news value now? Because McCain is Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating widest of the wide-boys, Jack Abramoff [1]. Abramoff parted sundry gaming Indian tribes from millions of their ill-gotten gains, and there is a deal of partisan squealing on their behalf [2].

  1. Michael Crowley's May 1 Times Magazine profile of Abramoff under hed A Lobbyist in Full.

  2. There have been several pieces here on the putrid racket which links Indian gaming and political corruption. Amazingly, this racket is popular with American voters - as I recall, the pattern of voting in Californian initiatives bears this out, for instance. They like the idea that a clique of randomly chosen clients should be provided by government action with a stupendous cash-flow (and when I say cash, I mean greenbacks - non-consecutive, natch) from which compliant pols can be rewarded.

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