President Richard M. Nixon: The First Big Scandal

About the first big scandal in Richard M. Nixon's political career involving dirty money used in a campaign.

After the convention, the campaign got off to a hopeful start, with Ike and Dick hitting hard with charges of Democratic corruption. But in mid-September, the press began carrying stories that Nixon himself had benefited from a secret fund raised in his behalf by a small group of California businessmen. Immediately, politicians of both parties demanded that Nixon resign from the ticket. Eisenhower refused to commit himself one way or another. Nixon began cracking under the pressure. In a famous phone conversation, he shouted at Eisenhower: "General--there comes a time when you have to piss or get off the pot!" When Ike still refused to speak out, it became clear that he was all too willing to abandon his tarnished running mate. In a last ditch effort to save himself, Nixon persuaded the Republican National Committee to buy $75,000 worth of television time so that he could explain his $18,000 fund. The speech that followed--broadcast live immediately after the top-rated Milton Berle show--was a political classic. In it, Nixon claimed:

Not one cent of the $18,000 or any other money of that type ever went to my personal use. Every penny of it was used to pay for political expenses that I did not think should be charged to the taxpayers of the U.S.

What Nixon forgot to mention was that it would have been illegal for him to have charged such expenses to the taxpayer--which was precisely why the Nixon fund was a closely guarded secret. The candidate used it to finance personal politicking that other senators were forced to pay for out of their salaries. The speech climaxed on a personal note:

One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don't they'll probably be saying this about me too. We did get something, a gift, after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our 2 youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl Tricia, the 6-year-old, named it Checkers. And you know, the kids love the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.

As Nixon went on to conclude the speech, he still had a few sentences to go when the red light flashed on signifying he was off the air. "I'm terribly sorry I ran over," he said to his aide William Rogers. "I loused it up, and I'm sorry." He thanked the technicians in the studio, then he gathered the notes from his desk, stacked them neatly, and threw them on the floor. "Dick, you did a terrific job," beamed his campaign manager Murray Chotiner, patting him on the back. "No, it was a flop," Nixon insisted. "I couldn't get off in time." When he reached the dressing room, Nixon turned away from his friends and let loose the bitter tears he had been holding back.

Nevertheless, the public response to the speech was highly favorable, and though Eisenhower appeared to have been disgusted by Nixon's performance, he was forced to keep the young Californian on the ticket. Greeting Nixon in Wheeling, W.Va., Eisenhower told him "You're my boy," and the team of Ike and Dick went on to a landslide victory in November.

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