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The Rippels Of Watergate Essay, Research Paper

The Ripples of Watergate

On August eighth, nineteen hundred seventy four, all of America watched as Richard Nixon gave his speech of resignation. This act was prompted by Watergate, a criminal scandal lead by President Nixon and other high ranking government officials. The Watergate scandal had a profound impact on American politics. It effected everything from voter turnout to campaign finance.

Watergate left America feeling let down by government. They became very untrusting of their government and specially the Republican party. Nixon left America crying for honest leadership. They turned away from the Republicans in 1974 by forcing forty-nine of them out of their congressional seats and replacing them with more “trustworthy” democrats. The biggest turn the people took away from the Grand Old Party was the presidential election of 1976. The people were still outraged with President Ford, who had pardoned Nixon of all criminal charges. The people were scared of the incumbent so they turned to a man who was an unlikely candidate, but was known widely as an honest man. That was what the public was looking for, a man who could restore their trust in a government, a man like Jimmy Carter. Carter was a little known governor from Georgia who helped Americans recover from Watergate.

Largely driven by the ripples left by Watergate, the lawmakers found a need to pass a lot of “good government” bills designed to repair their political process and helps rejuvenate public confidence elected officials. Many of these are still working in the American political system.

Prompted by Watergate, congress felt it nessicary to make reforms on special prosecutors. The attorney general had long had the ability to seek a court appointed council to investigate top officials of the executive branch. Archibald Cox, the Watergate prosecutor, was fired by Nixon. This outraged congress so they passed a new provision limiting the circumstances under which a special prosecutor could be removed. The law also gave the House and Senate Judiciary committees the power to seek out a special prosecutor. These prosecutors (later called independent counsel) have been called on eighteen times. In fact, independent counsel Kenneth Starr is a direct result of the Watergate scandal.

The biggest reforms following Watergate were the amendments on Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. These came about because the men behind the Watergate break in were funded by the Republicans. The government felt a need to better regulate the money of these political parties. These new reforms meant that an individual could not contribute over one thousand dollars in a single presidential primary, election, and runoff. It also limited the amount that political action committees could donate to these elections to five thousand dollars. However, this action does nothing to control the parties nearly unrestricted “soft money” accounts. Many think these limits may be too low because they must spend more time seeking contributions and less time focusing on the issues.

To help with this problem the congress expanded the taxpayer campaign funding bill. This action allowed for third party and independent candidates to qualify for tax payer dollars if they received more than five percent of the vote in a general election. This bill would allow the major parties to focus more during the general election. These campaign finances were also meant to level the field for all candidates. To ensure that these rules were not breached the congress setup the Federal Election Committee to police these parties’ actions. This new law came into light in the election of 1996. The nominees of both the Democratic and Republicans received sixty-two million dollars in taxpayer contributions and Reform party candidate H. Ross Perot received half that amount.

Under a new 1974 election law, candidates, political parties, and others who spend money in elections are required to file finance reports with the Federal Election Committee occasionally. These reports must include a list of all donors, who give gifts of over one hundred dollars. The list must include their addresses, occupations and place of employment. This reform was to be monitored by the Federal Election Committee, as well. This caused a tremendous amount of paper work. The Supreme Court has ruled that money is protected by first amendment freedom of speech. However, the Supreme Court also said that it was okay for the election commission to put regulations on soft money coming from big donors. So the amount changed from one hundred dollars to two hundred dollars in 1979.

Other broad areas of reform that followed Watergate were the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and codes of conduct adopted by both the House and the Senate in 1977. These ethics reforms started with the franking privilege, this privilege allows members of congress to send mail at the taxpayer?s expense. They limited this privilege and tried to keep them from abusing there power. These reforms also eliminated office “slush funds”. The new ethics rules also enforced restrictions on outside income, this included honoraria for speeches to special interest groups. These new ethics rules also limited the lobbying by former congressman and former Capitol Hill staff members.

These codes of right and wrong also included a resolution that forced all senators, representatives, and other high ranking judicial and executive officials and these people pursuing these offices to file annual reports dealing with income and investments. These do not require the officials to disclose the exact amount of the income and holdings. The reports are continuously criticized because they are open to the pubic, they are often used for mudslinging to scour a pubic officials or candidates record. These record have recently been used against Vice President Al Gore. He has recently been taking center stage because of his lack of contributions to non-profit organizations.

One effect of Watergate often overlooked by the public is the effect it had on the relationship between the mass media and government. The investigations of Watergate made some reporters seem like heroes to the American public. One man was Washington post reporter Ben Bradlee, he was responcability for uncovering large portions of the scandal. The biggest effect it had on the mass media was the level of trust. The press no longer gives public officials the benefit of the doubt. Some feel that it?s all talk to protect their own ego and help their chances for reelection.

The Watergate scandal exposed lies, corruption, and crime in our federal government. The scandal raised many important questions about the power of the president and other political officeholders. The results had a long lasting effect on the American politics of the time. The ripples left by Watergate can still be felt in the American political process still today. It promoted new actions to show that no organization or person was above the law in the United States.


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