Campaign Financing and the Nixon Presidency: The End of an Era
JOEL M. GORA
The presidency of Richard M. Nixon generated three momentous changes in our political and governmental processes, which have had a profound and continuing effect on our national political life. These legacies include the War Powers Act of 1973, 1 which restricts the president's authority to commit American military forces to combat situations without explicit congressional approval; the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, 2 which institutionalized the mechanism of a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by top-level executive branch officials; and the Federal Election Campaign Acts of 1971 and 1974, 3 which substantially altered the financing of federal election campaigns. Each of these major legislative events was the culmination of complex legal and political forces, and each has raised bedrock issues of constitutional power and law.
This paper will explore the third of those legacies--the financing of political campaigns--and recount the ways in which the Nixon Presidency, because of many of the events commonly referred to as Watergate, was first the casualty and then the cause of sweeping changes in campaign finance. The 1972 Nixon reelection campaign was the first presidential campaign to experience large-scale, effective disclosure of the sources of campaign funding and the last to rely for its financing on large-scale private contributions. Both watershed events would play a significant role in bringing down the Nixon Presidency. The disclosure laws would play a central role in exposing campaign financing excesses; those would then become a key feature of the Watergate hearings and would, in turn, spark the major reforms enacted in 1974, shortly after President Nixon resigned from office. This paper will trace those developments.
Of course, campaign finance controls did not arrive on the scene in 1972 just in time to ensnare the Finance Committee to Reelect the President. Congress