On June 17, 1972, five men were caught attempting to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. The first link between this break-in and President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign funds was discovered when a $25,000 cashier’s check, earmarked for Nixon’s re-election fund, was found to have been deposited into the bank account of one of the men involved in the break-in. Shortly thereafter, reporters revealed that then U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell controlled a secret campaign fund used to gather information about the Democratic Party. During the resulting Watergate investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation “established that hundreds of thousands of dollars in Nixon campaign contributions had been set aside to pay for an extensive undercover campaign aimed at discrediting individual Democratic presidential candidates and disrupting their campaigns.” Nearly one year after the Watergate break-in, President Nixon accepted the responsibility of the actions taken by his subordinates and appointed a new Attorney General, recommending changes in law “to prevent future campaign abuses of the sort recently uncovered,” referring to the secret election funds. On August 8, 1974, President Nixon formally announced his resignation. The Watergate scandal served as the “impetus for the last wave of campaign finance reform.” The dictionary definition of corruption includes: “dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people”; “dishonest proceedings”; “bribery”; “perversion of integrity”; “depravity”; and “a vicious and fraudulent intention to evade the prohibitions of the law.” The Supreme Court once subscribed to this very broad definition of cooruption. However, over time, the Court has adapted a narrower view of corruption. Instead of corruption including all dishonest or illegal behavior and a fraudulent intention to evade the law, today’s Supreme Court defines corruption solely as quid pro quo. Quid pro quo corruption is the trading of one thing for another; in campaign finance, it’s often the trading of money to be used to get the candidate into office (through campaign contributions) in exchange for a benefit after the candidate takes office. As the definition of corruption has become narrower, the Supreme Court has begun to overturn campaign finance laws, finding that the laws are not tailored closely enough to the purpose of preventing this type of corruption.
Mikala L. Noe,
McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission and the Supreme Court's Narrowed Definition of Corruption,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol67/iss1/7