Tags: Watergate | AEI | reform | Bolton

AEI Panel Remembers Watergate — Part II

By    |   Tuesday, 12 August 2014 08:00 AM

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) convened a panel of experts Aug. 1 to recall the Watergate scandal, which was about to come to a head 40 years ago with the resignation of President Nixon. This second article will report on the discussion of the fate of the so-called "Watergate reforms" and make some comments about presidential impeachment.

AEI's Karlyn Bowman, moderator of the panel, led the group through a discussion of the leading reforms associated with this scandal, provoking some spirited debate between Norman Ornstein, one of the house liberals at AEI, and John Bolton, the former US permanent representative to the United Nations whose sarcasm was in good form.

First was campaign finance reform, which was enacted over President Ford's veto, then largely vitiated by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Buckley v Valeo. The Buckley was Sen. James Buckley, a member of the Conservative Party of New York, and the Valeo was the Francis Valeo, secretary of the Senate who was in charge of administering the law. Ornstein recalled that Sen. Hubert Humphrey, D-Minn., who served as vice president under President Johnson, complained that it was demeaning to have to beg contributors for money constantly. This writer recalls that some other senators, such as Alan Cranston, D-Calif., seemed to be especially adept at making the best use of "phone time."

Ironically, the plaintiffs included another Democratic senator from Minnesota who ran for president, Eugene McCarthy. Ornstein lauded the law for encouraging more candidates to run thanks to the allure of federal matching funds. Bolton caustically called the law "a constitutional bureaucracy because it violated the constitution in several ways violating the Fifth Amendment and the principle of separation of powers." Ultimately, major candidates learned that they could raise more money than the spending limit would allow, so even most of the provisions that were not overturned have fallen into disuse.

Second was the Budget Control and Impoundment Act, which established the Congressional Budget Office and a complicated process that was supposed to lead to coordination between the Senate and House to produce a responsible budget, but over the intervening decades Congress has learned how to get around it. The panelists agreed that a budget process cannot force Congress to go against its primal instincts. Former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., minority counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, said it reminded him of what a Southern governor quipped about "prison reform," that it required a better class of prisoner. He pointed out that the budget process allowed major departures such as tax cuts and Obamacare.

The third post-Watergate reform was the Ethics in Government Act, signed incongruously by President Carter in 1978, which provided for the appointment of independent counsel to investigate accusations of wrongdoing where the Justice Department might have a conflict of interest. The legislation was an extension of the role played by Leon Jaworski as the Watergate special prosecutor after a series of attorneys general resigned rather than appoint a special prosecutor for Watergate. In subsequent years, concern grew over the fairness of appointing a counsel who would deal with only one or a small set of defendants, and the law was allowed to expire in 1999.

The last reform the panel discussed was the War Powers Act, intended to clarify the power to commit resources to "conflicts" on an ad hoc basis. It was a reaction to the alleged abuse by President Johnson of the limited authority granted by the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution to expand the War in Vietnam incrementally to involve more than half a million troops. In fact, the United States has continued to conduct a series of undeclared wars ever since FDR obtained a declaration of war against Japan in 1941. Thompson cited war powers as another example besides the budget legislation as examples of Congress enacting complicated "process" legislation as a substitute for the lack of will to take unpopular actions.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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The American Enterprise Institute convened a panel of experts Aug. 1 to recall the Watergate scandal, which was about to come to a head 40 years ago with the resignation of President Nixon.
Watergate, AEI, reform, Bolton
Tuesday, 12 August 2014 08:00 AM
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