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Lawmakeres Struggle With Ethics

Congress turns its attention to vexing problems of contributors after penalizing two of its own. NEXT UP: CAMPAIGN FINANCING

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CONGRESS is in the midst of a long-running struggle to tighten its ethical standards. ``Ethics is here to stay,'' says Michael Josephson, an ethicist and president of the Josephson Institute. The issue has refused to fade from public consciousness, as some had forecast, after being thrust there when personal ethical questions forced Gary Hart from the 1988 presidential race.

The Senate is prepared to plunge today into campaign finance reform, following the completion last week of congressional action on the ethics cases of Sen. Dave Durenberger (R) of Minnesota and Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts.

As often happens on the eve of serious debate, Republicans and Democrats are offering conciliatory campaign finance proposals aimed a compromise both parties will support.

The ethics issues of campaign finance revolve around the relationship between contributors and members of Congress to whom they donate, and the appropriateness of the huge political advantage that accrues to incumbents, who are far more able then their challengers to raise money for expensive campaigns.

Further in the future, probably beyond the November election, the Senate faces two additional ethics questions, which its Select Committee on Ethics first will investigate. They are:

Whether five senators put improper pressure on federal regulators on behalf of savings and loan owner Charles Keating, who had made campaign contributions to each. Often called the Keating Five, they are: Alan Cranston (D) of California, Dennis DeConcini (D) of Arizona, John Glenn (D) of Ohio, John McCain (R) of Arizona, and Donald Riegle (D) of Michigan. All deny exerting any improper influence.

Whether Sen. Alphonse D'Amato (R) of New York improperly pressed federal officials to approve housing projects in which campaign contributors held an interest. He denies any impropriety.

The two dramas that ended last week were of those of Senator Durenberger and Congressman Frank. By 96 to 0 the Senate denounced Durenberger, elected as a reformer in 1978 to the seat once held by Hubert Humphrey. The Senate ordered him to pay $123,000 in restitution after finding him guilty of accepting more than the $100,000 Senate limit on outside income and of billing the Senate for unreimbursable expenses.

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