Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cates and Watergate

By Bill Kraus

One of the lessons learned at the memorial service for Dick Cates is that there is a storytelling gene. Dick was a remarkable storyteller. All four of his sons and his daughter inherited the gene. The memorial service was graced by great stories by great storytellers about their great storyteller father.

The service, the eulogies, the day were about everything about the man and inevitably stirred memories about his and Wisconsin’s role in the Watergate story.

New Jersey Representative Peter Rodino had the job of assembling the team of investigators and prosecutors to examine what would come to be known as “Watergate.” He asked Wisconsin Representative Bob Kastenmeier, another member of the House Judiciary Committee, if he knew of a lawyer with trial experience who he would recommend. Bob did. He knew Dick Cates.

Dick went to Washington D.C. and joined New Richmond, Wisconsin’s John Doar, who was the Judiciary Committee’s chief counsel. Another member of that team was a young intern from Illinois named Hillary Rodham. She was recommended by yet another Wisconsin congressional representative, Mel Laird of Marshfield.

The Wisconsinite’s role in this saga continued through the next stage when Rodino’s committee voted out the articles of impeachment on the recommendation of the staff.

Representative Harold Froehlich, a newly elected Republican from Wisconsin’s 8th district, voted in favor of the bill of impeachment which the committee sent on to the House of Representatives.

This vote cost him his seat in the Congress in the next election. A majority of his constituents disapproved of the investigation, the bill of impeachment, and, probably, President Nixon’s resignation. All of which they took out on Harold.

Everyone else from Wisconsin or with a Wisconsin connection fared better.

Due to the inevitable intervention of the law of unintended consequences, the reforms enacted in the wake of Watergate which were designed to make sure that political parties would never again be able to wield the power that attended their enormous and pretty much exclusive fundraising ability for pernicious purposes again.

What these reforms spawned was a political action committee, special interest-driven, dialing-for-dollars-by-candidate system that is ravaging politics and enslaving political candidates today.

The irony is that the latter day Dick Cates devoted considerable time and energy and brought his skills to a reform committee headed by former Chief Justice Nat Heffernan which worked tirelessly and fruitlessly trying to find a way to rid the country of what had become the illegitimate offspring of the admirable and necessary work of the Rodino Committee.

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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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