I have a certain fascination with Kenneth Dahlberg. He raised money for Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign and was a critical player in the Watergate scandal. After the break-in was discovered, investigators found that a $25,000 check from Dahlberg had been deposited in the bank account of one of the burglars. As is documented (apparently quite accurately) in probably the most exciting scene in the film All the President’s Men, Dahlberg simply gave the check (a bundle of smaller donations) to Maurice Stans, the head of finance for Nixon’s Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP, which everyone who didn’t like Nixon called “creep”).
Maurice Stans was an interesting character. He was Secretary of Commerce from the beginning of 1969 to the beginning of 1972, when he stepped down to help out on Nixon’s campaign. He was basically an accountant. He had worked in the Eisenhower administration. Now he claimed throughout his very long and pampered life that he didn’t know where the money was going. But I find this hard to believe. CRP had a huge slush fund. Nixon had a million dollars in the White House safe. Now if I had been chair of finance for CRP, I think you could rightly believe that I had no idea because I’m clueless. But Stans was an accountant. As it is, it seems that everyone at the Washington CRP office knew something was going on, even if they didn’t know what.
Regardless, Stans was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, but never convicted. He pleaded guilty to reporting violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act and had to pay a small (for him) fine. And that was the end of that.
So here is Dahlberg, who is a Republican at a time when it didn’t mean you were a horrible or just deeply ignorant person, who is helping to get his party’s president re-elected. It’s a patriotic act. He believes in the Republican agenda. He isn’t doing it for his direct personal benefit. He’s being a good citizen. And he finds himself in the middle of a criminal conspiracy. It’s just amazing.
Of course, Dahlberg was never indicted or anything. I think that everyone knew all along that he didn’t know what was going on. But it’s kind of interesting that CRP would not deposit the donation into its slush fund and rather just sign over a campaign check to a criminal. This could have been done because they thought Dahlberg was a patsy. But I suspect they did it out of a combination of hubris and incompetence. As Deep Throat says in the film, “Forget the myths the media has created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys.” (Remember during the George W Bush administration how everyone talked about how brilliant Karl Rove was, but he turned out to be a mediocrity, just like them all.)
What I found interesting was that Kenneth Dahlberg was a World War II hero. He was a fighter pilot in Europe and was credited with 15 aerial victories. In the course of all of that, he was shot down three times himself. He got a ridiculous number of metals, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award the army gives out. He had a very eventful war. He was also a very successful businessman — one who actually made things (in particular, hearing aids).
I think it all fits a certain kind of profile of a man who, though very much not like me, was a decent man — trying to do what was right.
Afterword: Theoretical Kenneth Dahlberg
Beliefs are cultural. I think Kenneth Dahlberg was a good and noble man in terms of his business dealings and his politics. He was 55 in 1972, so I think he was, if anything, naive. But if he had been born 40 years later, he would be the same kind of outsourcing, “greed is good,” “demagogue everything for the sake of my tax cuts” jerk that is the Republican Party today. But as the man he was in his own time, he was good — even a hero.