The $850,000 Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) raised from savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr. in 1987 and 1988 was part of about $7 million the senator raised for controversial "non-partisan," tax-exempt voter registration groups during the period.
Cranston also raised voter registration money, though not from Keating, in 1986, stressing that those who donated would be helping him and other Democratic candidates up for reelection that year. He said his goal then was "total participation" by eligible voters. "If that has partisan overtones, if both parties do it, so what?"
Internal Revenue Service rules prohibit tax-exempt organizations from engaging in partisan activity. In practice, both major political parties have used such groups to sign up voters in areas where they are strong. Cranston supported groups, including one headed by his son, Kim, that concentrated on registration in black and Latino neighborhoods.
In the same September 1987 memo in which she urged Cranston to "ask Keating for $250,000," fund-raiser Joy Jacobson suggested asking an American Express executive for $100,000 and said she was seeking appointments with billionaires Michael Milken, the since-convicted junk bond king, and Donald Trump.
In a February 1988 memo mentioning Keating, Jacobson also coached Cranston on how to approach heirs to the Cox Communications and Rockefeller fortunes, and Carl Rheuban, head of another now-defunct savings and loan. And in a March 1989 memo, she told the senator to ask David Paul, head of a since failed Florida savings and loan, for $40,000 in non-deductible funds.
Federal law prohibits individuals from donating more than $2,000 directly to a political campaign for federal office; there are no limits on how much personal or corporate money can be donated to tax-exempt voter registration efforts.