For my write-up today on Jerry Voorhis' The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon (copyright 1972, 1973), I'll use as my starting-point something that Richard Nixon says on page 515 of his memoirs (volume 2), on the topic of conflicts-of-interest:
"From the start of my political career, I
had tried to be scrupulously careful in the handling of public money. I
grew up in a home where politics was frequently discussed, and where
the greatest contempt was reserved for politicians on the take. If
anything, I have always gone far beyond most people in government to
document and account for public money, whether campaign or government
funds...After the 1968 election I decided to sell all of my stocks and
outside holdings. This divestiture was not required by law, but I
thought it would be worth going the extra measure to avoid even the
appearance of a conflict of interest. I took most of the money from the
sale of the stocks and the sale of our New York apartment and put it
into the purchase of two houses in Florida and a house in California."
Nixon in this passage states that he sold his stocks and outside
holdings when he became President to "avoid even the appearance of a
conflict of interest": he did not want for people to accuse him of using
his authority as President to benefit himself financially. If
Nixon as President, say, would pressure the Justice Department to go
easy on a company in which Nixon had stocks, that would appear to be a
conflict-of-interest, even if Nixon had a valid reason for wanting the
Justice Department to go easy on the company. Nixon, therefore, sold
all of his stocks to prevent this sort of scenario from occurring.
according to Jerry Voorhis, Nixon is far from pure. Voorhis says that
Nixon as President has given favors to his friends and backers. Or,
Voorhis contends, other officials within the Nixon Administration have
done this. The following are examples that Voorhis gives:
and Attorney General John Mitchell have helped out the law firm that
they were in before Nixon became President. (When Nixon became
President, Voorhis says, Nixon and Mitchell withdrew their names from
the firm.) The law firm "added substantially to its Washington staff"
after Nixon became President (page 246), implying perhaps that it was
expecting some goodies. And it got some: the law firm was "hired to act
as bond attorneys for the sale of U.S. Postal service bonds" on the
open market (page 247). Voorhis says that this was "lucrative
business", and he refers to Congressman Morris Udall's statement that it
cost the taxpayers more ($125 million) than selling bonds through the
U.S. Treasury would have cost.
----When Nixon and
Mitchell were in the firm, the El Paso Natural Gas Company gave the firm
fees of "three-quarters of a million dollars" (page 246). As Attorney
General, Voorhis narrates, John Mitchell approved of the dismissal of a
case against El Paso, allowing the company to have a monopoly "of delivery of gas to the Far West of the nation" (page 246).
Cronkite said that Nixon and his friend, Bebe Robozo, profited quite
well from selling Florida land shares at $2 a share when the "market
price was $1" (Voorhis' words on page 247). According to Voorhis,
Nixon's status as President was what enabled the company to do this.
says that Bebe Robozo "on one occasion was given no less than four
chances to become the lowest bidder on a contract to handle land-title
services in connection with sale of land in the Everglades National
Park" (page 248).
----Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst
"blocked his own anti-trust division from opposing the merger of two
giants in the drug business, Warner-Lambert and Parke-Davis" (page
247). Incidentally, the chairman of the board of Warner-Lambert "was a
long-time financial backer of President Nixon and a client of the
'Nixon-Mitchell' law firm" (page 247). The Washington Post said that
Elmer Bobst----a large stockholder in the drug company, a major campaign
contributor to Nixon, and a friend of the President----revealed that he
had discussed the coming merger with Nixon aides.
the issue of campaign finance reform is of concern to Voorhis. Voorhis
discusses the vast amounts of money that Nixon gets from
wealthy backers (often in small chunks, to abide by campaign finance
laws). Voorhis says that Nixon opposed a bill that would allow each
taxpayer to give $1 to a Presidential campaign, which was estimated to
provide $20 million to the Republicans and the Democrats, without making
them beholden to major donors. But Nixon signed the bill when it was
revised in such a manner that it would not apply to his last remaining
Presidential campaign, the one in 1972. This reinforces a point
that Voorhis makes more than once in the book: that Nixon is not
particularly committed to principles, but rather he's looking out for
Nixon. For Voorhis, Nixon does whatever will benefit his own political
future. But Voorhis still thinks that Nixon has supported policies that
help the sort of people who donate to his campaign. On page 273, Voorhis states:
like these need protection. They desire national policies that will
leave room for expansion of their business interests. They want the
burden of taxation to be spread broadly across the population, not
concentrated upon those best able to pay. They like a loose labor
market with ample unemployment to sap the power of organized labor.
They want no dissent against their 'best of all possible worlds.' And
when such dissent shows itself they expect it to be dealt with in
vigorous and summary fashion."
----In 1972, there was concern
among Americans that McGovern's defense-cutbacks (were he to become
President) would deprive people of jobs, even though McGovern said that
he supported the government creating other public-sector employment.
According to Voorhis, when Nixon was re-elected, he closed military
bases in some of the areas that voted against him in the 1972 election,
while rewarding with bases some of the areas that voted for him.
a number of these items (assuming they are factual, which Nixon would probably dispute) probably would not legally count as
conflict-of-interest. Some of them are just politics, which has its
share of "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine". And both political
parties are guilty of this. But, even if it's not a
conflict-of-interest, it's a far cry from governing from a standpoint of
neutrality and fairness, doing what is best for the nation rather than
what is best for special interests.
Letters from home
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