The five senators – Alan Cranston (Democrat of California), Dennis DeConcini (Democrat of Arizona), John Glenn (Democrat of Ohio), John McCain (Republican of Arizona), and Donald W. Riegle, Jr. (Democrat of Michigan) – were accused of improperly intervening in 1987 on behalf of Charles H.
Keating, Jr., Chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which
was the target of a regulatory investigation by the Federal Home Loan Bank
Board (FHLBB). The FHLBB subsequently backed off taking action against Lincoln.
Lincoln Savings and Loan collapsed in 1989, at a cost of over $3 billion to the federal government. Some 23,000 Lincoln bondholders were defrauded and many investors lost their life savings. The substantial political contributions Keating had made to each of the senators, totaling $1.3 million, attracted considerable public and media attention. After a lengthy investigation, the Senate Ethics Committee determined in 1991 that Cranston, DeConcini, and Riegle had substantially and improperly interfered with the
FHLBB's investigation of Lincoln Savings, with Cranston receiving a formal
reprimand. Senators Glenn and McCain were cleared of having acted improperly
but were criticized for having exercised "poor judgment".
All five senators served out their terms. Only Glenn and McCain ran for re-election, and they both retained their seats. McCain would go on to run for President of the United States twice, including being the Republican Party nominee in 2008.
McCain and Keating had become personal friends following their initial contacts in 1981, and McCain was the only one of the five with close social and personal ties to Keating. Like DeConcini, McCain considered Keating a constituent as he lived in Arizona. Between 1982 and 1987, McCain had received $112,000 in political contributions from Keating and his associates. McCain and his family had made several trips at Keating's expense. McCain did not pay Keating (in the amount of $13,433) for some of the trips until years after they were taken, when he learned that Keating was in trouble over Lincoln. In 1989 Phoenix New Times writer Tom Fitzpatrick opined that McCain was the "most reprehensible" of the five senators.
The only member of the Keating Five remaining in the U.S. Senate today is John McCain, who had an easier time gaining re-election in 1992 in his first try after the scandal than he anticipated. He survived the political scandal in part by becoming friendly with the political press.