In late 1973, Nixon had asked presidential counselor Bryce Harlow to develop a legislative proposal for campaign reform. Since I was already staffing Bryce on Watergate issues, he asked me to help out. Bryce explained the President wanted something really creative/ so aggressive it would cause other proposals to look timid. Since Nixon was never going to go for federal funding, we had to look elsewhere for ideas.
The central issue, as always, was money: how to trace its origins and expenditures, how to regulate it, and how to enforce those regulations. The idea I came up with was a forerunner of crypto currency. The government would print up batches of special script, incapable of being counterfeited, which would be the only lawful manner for campaign expenditures. Each campaign would have to purchase this script from the government, so it would be able to trace the movement of funds. Any purchases by other means, especially cash, would be a felony.
Sound unworkable? You bet! But it was a dramatic proposal, to be sure. We first unveiled it at a meeting in the Cabinet Room on January 1974, with the co-chairmen of the Republican National Committee: George H.W, Bush and Anne Armstrong. They were appalled; George Bush in particular. He was polite and went out of his way to complement me on my “brilliant work,” but pleaded with the President not to go forward. Bryce loved it! It was just the reaction he was looking for.
Attached is a picture, with President Nixon sitting in his dedicated chair at the center of the table. Going clockwise, there is Attorney General William Saxby (sitting in his dedicated chair), Bryce Harlow, Bill Timmons, me, Counsel Len Garment, George Bush, Anne Armstrong and Vice President Jerry Ford. It’s one of my favorite pictures, since it includes three presidents in the same meeting, with me sitting at the table providing the key staffing.
We next presented the proposal to the GOP Leadership Meeting, also in the Cabinet Room, on February 20, 1974. This was a Congressional Relations meeting and Bryce only included me as a courtesy, so I sat in the far background, way off to the left, where I would not be in any pictures, In contrast, our congressional relations team sat directly behind the President, so they would be in all the pictures – which would enhance their ability to convey the President’s wishes to various Members of Congress. In looking at the attached picture, you can see the table was filled with key GOP senators and congressmen. Bryce sat at the table at the far end.
What I hadn’t realized was that by being the only person sitting along the left wall, the President would see me every time he looked up. For reasons that remain unknown, he got started on all the fine work young lawyers on his staff had been doing – me in particular. It became quite embarrassing, as he went on and on, really warming up to his subject.
You can get an idea of what occurred from a fake newsletter, scribbled by Tom Korologos, who was seated right behind the president.
It’s even funnier if you understand all the references:
- The headline reads, “Shephard’s (sic) star Rises Enormously,” with a sketch of a shepherd holding a shepherd’s crook with a sheep at his feet, Under the sketch, “Kachigian (sic) Sits in Wings – His Star May Be Next.” Ken Khachigian was another young lawyer on the staff, who happened to be seated near Korologos. Ken went on to become President Reagan’s principal speechwriter.
- Down the right column, it reports “President (the paragraph symbol is code for President), counselor Bryce Harlow, OMB Director Roy Ash, RNC chairman George Bush, praise Shephard 40 times.” This really wasn’t much of an exaggeration.
- “Class A car now likely for Shephard.” This means you were picked up at home by a White House car, a perk limited to a small handful of the most senior presidential advisors.
- “Timmons — who really did it – totally rebuffed – may lose car – Shephard eyes Timmon’s office, too.” Bill Timmons was head of Congressional Relations and would be the one to direct support for the legislation. He was sitting right next to Korologos, so he was seeing the Leader News as it was being drafted.
- “Timmons stalks out of meeting. Nobody even glances at him, let alone mention his name. Shit calls set record – Bennett, Arends, Timmons.” Picture this: you’re in a meeting with the president in the cabinet Room, with stewards constantly refilling your coffee cup. At some point, as the meeting drags on, you have to go to the toilet. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to walk out of a Cabinet Room meeting, especially when the President was talking.
- Down the left column, “Hartman attends first meeting – take over now iminent (sic)” Bob Hartman was Vice President Ford’s chief of staff and universally disliked by the Nixon people.
- “Complete Confusion Reigns in Meeting.” This was because they were trying to understand our legislative proposal and how it might effect their own campaigns.
- “President Announces Veto of Post Card Resignation! Korologos, Max Like to a Shit when President Makes Freudian Slip on ‘Resignation.’” Post card voter registration was a Democrat favorite, which Nixon assured the attendees that he would veto, but he said “resignation” instead of “registration.” Max Friedersdorf was head of Congressional Relations for the House, as Tom Korologos was for the Senate. Freudian slip.
- “Poles for Nixon” with a sketch showing Gallup and Harris holding tall poles. This was when the President was describing current polls by those two organizations, which were rather promising.
- “Everybody Dumps on Brock Post Card Bill.” Senator Bill Brock (R-TN) had introduced his own version of post card registration, which was not popular among his GOP colleagues.
- “GOP Problem: How to Cope with Cope.” The union’s political arm was called the Committee on Political Education, who inevitably opposed GOP initiatives.
The legislation was introduced in the Senate on March 28, 1974 by Senator Tower (R-TX), as S. 3261. It was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration and never heard from again.