The committee's solution to the dilemma Cranston's threats created was unprecedented. Never before in Senate history had a member been merely reprimanded in such a trial-like atmosphere. In the past, they have either been reprimanded in a statement issued by the committee or forced to stand trial in the Senate with a verdict rendered by vote at the end of the proceeding.
Although the six-member committee had long been deadlocked, 3 to 3, on the question of whether Cranston should be censured by the full Senate, there was no equivocation in their findings. In essence, the panel found that he and his staff engaged in a persistent pattern of behavior in which they viewed Keating's contributions as reason to assist the flamboyant thrift executive in fighting a federal bank board investigation of Lincoln Savings.
In all, Cranston solicited nearly $1 million in contributions from Keating for his 1984 presidential campaign, his 1986 reelection campaign, the California Democratic Party and several voter registration groups founded by Cranston. By the committee's count, he also contacted federal officials 13 times on Lincoln's behalf.
". . . Sen. Cranston's conduct was improper and repugnant," the findings said. ". . . Sen. Cranston's improper conduct deserves the fullest, strongest and most severe sanction which the committee has the authority to impose. Therefore, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, on behalf of and in the name of the United States Senate, does hereby strongly and severely reprimand Sen. Alan Cranston."
None of Cranston's actions--taken separately--was improper, Heflin said. Furthermore, he said, the panel found no evidence that Cranston's misconduct was intentional or that Cranston personally benefited from any of the money he solicited from Keating.
Instead, Heflin said, Cranston was found guilty of violating a subjective standard known to all members. "Members of the committee unanimously concluded that commonly understood and well-established norms of behavior in the Senate do not permit linkage between official actions and fund raising," he said.
Although there was no evidence that Cranston ever promised to do a favor for Keating in response to a contribution, Heflin said, the two were clearly linked. Paraphrasing former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's oft-quoted remarks about obscenity--"I know it when I see it"--Heflin said "linkage" could not easily be defined, but senators knew it when they saw it.
Heflin said the worst example of such linkage occurred in November, 1987, when Keating lobbyist James Grogin delivered $250,000 in checks for voter registration to Cranston at his office in the Capitol, and the senator--in a telephone call to Keating while Grogin was still present--agreed to ask Federal Home Loan Bank Board Chairman M. Danny Wall to meet with the Lincoln owner.
But Cranston asserted that the mere juxtaposition of solicitations of Keating and his intervention with federal regulators was no sufficient proof of linkage.
"There was no quid pro quo," Dershowitz said after the Senate debate, during which he was prohibited by the rules from speaking. "We can prove that other senators engaged in similar linkage but simply did a better job of covering up their tracks."
Dershowitz also asserted that it was the first time in history that the Senate had ever reprimanded any member for the appearance of impropriety instead of an actual infraction. He said the committee's allegations would never have stood up in a court of law.
Cranston, who has long had a reputation as perhaps the best fund-raiser in the Senate, argued that there are no established norms in the Senate prohibiting what he did.
"There is no precedent and there is no rule establishing that it is unethical for a senator to engage in legitimate constituent service on behalf of a constituent because it was close in time to a lawful contribution to the senator's campaign or to a charity that the senator supports," he said.
In addition, he said that by accepting the committee's findings, the Senate was setting a new standard that would ensnare many other senators in the future. He noted that all senators give greater access to big contributors than to small ones and said:
"So let me ask: Since I have been singled out for a reprimand on access today, who among you can be sure you will not be singled out for a reprimand on access tomorrow? Here, but for the grace of God, stand you."
At the same time, Cranston expressed some regret for the actions that had marred his final year in the Senate.
"I'm not proud of this moment," he said. "I deeply regret the pain all this has caused my family, my friends, my supporters and my constituents . . . . In retrospect, I grant that I should not have solicited and received--even though it was on behalf of others--charitable donations close in time to official actions . . . . For that I apologize."