Wilson Was Top Beneficiary of S&L; Funding : Politics: The Republican candidate for governor received $243,334 in campaign contributions over the past decade, the most of any member of Congress, Common Cause reports.


Sen. Pete Wilson, the Republican candidate for governor, received $243,334 in campaign contributions from the scandal-ridden savings and loan industry over the last decade--more than any other member of Congress.

Wilson’s contributions came to light in a study by Common Cause, the self-styled citizens lobby, which found more than $10 million in savings and loan industry political contributions to members of Congress since 1981.

In response to the report, Linda Royster, Wilson’s spokesman, faulted Common Cause for failing to point out that the thrift industry contributions represented only a small percentage of the millions of dollars her boss raised for his two Senate races. It is estimated that Wilson raised more than $5 million in 1982 and nearly $20 million in 1988.

In addition, the Common Cause study found that seven California congressmen placed among the top 10 recipients of thrift industry contributions in the House. These included Los Angeles-area Democrats Mel Levine, Howard L. Berman and Esteban E. Torres.


Wilson’s campaign contributions from savings and loans executives far exceeded those of Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston, whose name has become identified with the thrift scandal because of his close relationship with Lincoln Savings and Loan owner Charles H. Keating Jr. Lincoln’s $2.5-billion collapse last year was the largest savings and loan debacle ever.

Cranston received $114,700 from the thrift industry over the last decade, according to Common Cause. This included $19,000 from Keating and other Lincoln officials but did not include money that Keating raised for Cranston from other sources. Nor did it include $85,000 that Cranston solicited from him for the California Democratic Party or $850,000 that Keating donated to Cranston voter registration programs.

Wilson received $20,500 from Keating and other Lincoln officials, according to Common Cause. But there is no evidence that the Republican senator ever intervened with federal regulators on behalf of Lincoln, as Cranston did.

What makes the sum of Wilson’s contributions so surprising is that he--unlike Cranston--does not serve on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which is responsible for legislation regulating the thrift industry. Nevertheless, it is not unexpected that California congressmen would dominate this report, since the state’s thrift industry is the biggest in the nation.


Executives of nine California thrifts were represented in Common Cause’s list of the top 25 industry contributors to members of Congress. These included officials of Lincoln, who contributed $481,300, and officials of Columbia Savings & Loan, who made $198,250 in contributions. Columbia’s political action committee kicked in another $71,650. Lincoln had no PAC.

Government documents obtained by The Times show that Cranston wrote at least 15 inquiries to officials of the now-defunct Federal Home Loan Bank Board on behalf of the thrifts. None of these written inquires involved Lincoln, for which Cranston and other senators went to bat during two meetings with FHLBB officials in April, 1987.

On Dec. 11, 1984, for example, Cranston wrote to then-FHLBB Chairman Edwin Gray and asked him to appoint Peter J. Sajovich as public interest director of the agency’s San Francisco office. But Gray replied that such an appointment would be illegal since Sajovich was then chairman of Manhattan Beach Savings and Loan.

Common Cause records show that Sajovich contributed $2,000 to Cranston’s campaign four months later.


During the same period, the documents show, Wilson wrote to FHLBB officials at least four times on behalf of thrift interests in general or specific California savings institutions.

Despite the S&L; contributions they received, both Wilson and Cranston voted in 1987 for a $10.8-billion bailout of the savings and loan industry that far exceeded the $5-billion expenditure advocated by thrift lobbyists. Industry officials opposed the higher figure because they were being asked to pay for part of it.

It is now estimated that the industry collapse will cost American taxpayers $300 billion.

In the House, Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), was the leading recipient of thrift contributions over the last decade with $85,000. He was followed closely by Reps. David Dreier (R-La Verne) with $75,100; Levine, $69,250; Richard Lehman (D-Sanger), $68,090; Norman Shumway (R-Stockton), $67,425; Torres, $60,950, and Berman, $45,905.


Of these seven Californians, only Berman voted against the industry during the key bailout vote in 1987. Levine was absent. The House adopted the $5-billion proposal, but the total figure was more than doubled in negotiations with the Senate.

The only member of the Orange County Congessional delegation who shows up on the Common Cause list is Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), whose contributions of $11,275 put him in 100th place. In the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, which favored the industry position, 25 to 24, members who voted with the thrifts received $509,970 from the industry between 1981 and 1986, while those who voted against the industry received only $208,723. Then-Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), who is now retired from Congress, was believed to have engineered the 1987 industry victory in the House. He received $49,290.

Common Cause officials could not estimate whether Democrats or Republicans received more money from the thrift industry, but the Democratic Party committees clearly had an edge.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee received $465,815 in contributions from individual thrift executives and $213,775 from their political action committees. The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee received $469,732 from individual thrift executives and $67,707 from the PACs.


At the same time, President Bush received so-called “soft money” contributions of $100,000 each from six top thrift officials in 1988 and two businessmen who purchased failing thrifts in late 1988. Soft-money contributions are not regulated by federal law, which provides for public financing of presidential elections.

In addition to Lincoln and Columbia, several other California thrifts and industry groups were among the leading contributors to congressional candidates over the last decade.