Blog — Campaign Finance Reform

September 24, 2012

How Candidates Can Learn a Thing or Two from Richard Nixon

By Jeremy Miller

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of then-Senator and Republican vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon’s infamous “Checkers” speech. The speech, airing both on television and radio, came in response to accusations he had improperly and personally benefited from a fund established by his political backers to finance political expenses. So serious were the accusations, Mr. Nixon’s place on the ticket with Dwight Eisenhower was in jeopardy.

Contributions to the fund were to reimburse Mr. Nixon for political travel and mailings. While not illegal at the time, they exposed him to attacks of giving special favors to the fund’s contributors. With the election looming, Mr. Nixon went to the airwaves to disavow the accusations to nearly 60 million viewers and listeners. Not only did Mr. Nixon claim not one cent of the fund went to his personal use, he laid bare the details of his personal and family finances, from assets consisting of government bonds and small inheritances and his life insurance policy to liabilities, including his monthly rent, loans from his parents and banks.

And why is it called the “Checkers” speech? Near the end, Mr. Nixon admitted that yes, there was one gift he was guilty of receiving: a cocker spaniel dog named Checkers delivered by train from “a man down in Texas” who had heard on the radio that Mr. Nixon’s children wanted a dog. “I just want to say this right now,” Nixon said, “regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.” The speech was received so positively that the Eisenhower/Nixon ticket swept into office weeks later.

Just a brief survey of CREW’s latest edition of Most Corrupt demonstrates candidates for federal office continue to play fast and loose with campaign finance laws, using campaign funds as their personal piggy banks. And unfortunately, the hopelessly gridlocked FEC rarely holds them accountable, which means that we better hope we are past the time when a single speech by a candidate feigning humility will carry the day. Enjoy the video.


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