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October 07, 2008

AS PALIN BRINGS UP AYERS, OBAMA BRINGS UP KEATING. But McCain's role in the Keating Five affair is a bit overstated. Here's what we wrote about it in The Appearance of Impropriety, back in 1997 when thoughts of the current election were rather far away:

The televised "Keating Five" senate ethics hearings focused on the substantial contributions S&L high-roller Charles Keating had arranged for five senators' reelection campaigns, and the pressures the senators had exerted on federal regulators on behalf of Keating's Lincoln Savings & Loan. Special Counsel Robert S. Bennett argued in his opening statement that the committee should judge the senators' conduct under the "appearance standard."

Bennett was sensitive to the criticism that improper appearances are uniquely in the eye of the beholder. So he articulated the following "appearance" principle: "A senator should not engage in conduct that would appear to be improper to a reasonable nonpartisan, fully informed person." This was an artful formulation. Yet, by design, the majority and minority members of the Senate Ethics Committee are partisans -- a truth they confirmed by including Senators John Glenn and John McCain in their public hearings despite Special Counsel Bennett's contrary recommendation. The two senators had played relatively minor roles in the Keating affair. Senator McCain was a Republican, however, and without him the televised hearing would have given the appearance that Democrats were responsible for the S&L crisis. Senator Glenn's presence, in turn, was necessary to provide the appearance of evenhandedness in reaching out for Senator McCain.

I eagerly await the hearings on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's influence on current members of Congress. . . .

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