Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Flashback: The Return of Maurice Stans and the Nixon Finance Committee.


[Fifty years plus of politics as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].

When I was fired by Maurice Stans as an assistant to the secretary of commerce and director of the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, I had no occasion to imagine that I would ever see him again. After all, how many times have you ever come into contact again by your old boss who fired you? But that’s not the way it was to be. As this memoir details, I went to the Peace Corps and then returned to Quaker Oats…arriving there in 1972. That was just in time for Quaker’s chairman and CEO Bob Stuart to be named finance chairman of the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP)…whose general finance chairman was, you guessed it, the man who resigned as commerce secretary to take the job, Maurice Stans. And it would be my job as the political officer of Quaker and a political assistant to Bob Stuart to help my boss raise money for Richard Nixon…and in doing so, cooperate with my ex-boss who canned me.

Stans, fresh from Commerce, still had not given up on his burning desire to become treasury secretary in Nixon’s next term. Like Captain Queeg whose preoccupation was rolling steel ball-bearings to keep himself calm, Stans, age 64, figured he was position just right for the job in the second term. He was grievously disappointed when Chicago’s David Kennedy of Continental National Bank became Nixon’s choice at the beginning of the first term [1969-71]. Then disappointed again when Nixon picked John Connally as Kennedy’s successor [1971-72] who resigned to head Democrats for Nixon. Anguished yet again when Connally’s replacement turned out to be George Shultz of Illinois in 1972. Stans figured that with the exception of Connally (with whom Nixon seemed to have an almost unnatural attraction) the political charm was Illinois—Kennedy and Shultz. But Stans had lived in Illinois most of his working career, having lived in Kenilworth. Maybe, just maybe…if he did an outstanding job of raising money for the second term—even better than he did for the first term—he would get a crack at treasury.

Raising money was duck-soup for Stans. That’s what he did really well. He pioneered a new style. Rather than ask money to support a free market, he would raise fear among potential givers that unless Nixon were to win, the confiscatory and regulatory policies of the liberals would bankrupt the potential givers. For the 1972 campaign, it was accepted wisdom that Stans would leave commerce for the finance job. Indeed, he has passed the word to those campaign people who were manning the Nixon headquarters that no one…absolutely no one…was to name state Nixon finance chairs until he, Stans, took over the finance command. The only senior official to move into the Nixon campaign headquarters at 1625 Eye street northwest, Washington, was John Mitchell who had resigned as attorney general. Stans had beseeched Mitchell whom he was deathly afraid of not to allow anyone to name finance chairs until he, Stans, took over. Mitchell said okay.

Accordingly, once Stans took over his old berth as finance chairman, he looked at the map and then his records to see who he would appoint as Nixon finance chairs in the states. But he was stunned to see that while all the state chairs on the map were blank, only one state finance job was filled—Illinois…and that was filled by Robert D. Stuart of Quaker Oats. Visibly upset, Stans trotted down the corridor to see Mitchell, the campaign manager and asked him who had named Stuart to the post. Mitchell looked dismayed. He said, “I did. I was told you wanted him, Maury!” Told by whom? “Told by Tom Houser, the Illinois Nixon campaign manager. Houser called last week and said the finance post should go to Stuart and that it was his understanding you approved it!”

Stans had not. How did Stans get that idea? Tom Houser, who had been Percy’s campaign manager, thought that Stuart’s appointment would be a good idea. But then two men were close friends…men who had similar names: Tom Houser and Tom Roeser. Stans trotted down the corridor again to see Mitchell. “Just asking,” he said with forced calm. “The guy who said I favored Stuart wasn’t a Tom Roeser, was he?” Mitchell, sucking on his pipe, checked his records and said, “no—Tom Houser. You know—the guy who was with the Peace Corps.” Stans said: “Roeser was with the Peace Corps.” “No,” said Mitchell, “I know Houser, don’t know Roeser. Houser is the campaign manager. Best in the state. He told me that you wanted Stuart as finance chairman.”

“Well I don’t!” said Stans, but said the hell with it and returned to his office. He called Houser in Illinois.

“Maurice Stans,” he said in his curt way. “I want to know who gave you the idea that I had suggested Bob Stuart for finance chairman. Who?”

“All kinds of people,” said Houser. “Chuck Percy first of all. Bob Galvin, Bob Ingersoll, Art Nielsen. Clem Stone most of all. Stuart’s the national committeeman. Why?”

“It wasn’t a Tom Roeser by any chance?”

Houser feigned a pause. “Who? You don’t want to make a change on that now, do you? Stuart’s name is absolutely golden. He’s the national committee--”

“Never mind,” said Stans. “Never mind. No, he stays. I was just wondering.”

So as he routinely did, Stans got on a chartered plane and flew the rounds to all the key states. He phoned Bob Stuart and said he’d be coming in for breakfast. The meeting would be in a private room at the M & M Club in the Merchandise Mart. 7 a.m. sharp. He wanted to have only a few people there—the campaign manager, Tom Houser, the Cook county chairman, Fred Zini, Clem Stone’s guy, Bob Athey—that was very important--and Stuart. Stuart said, yes and I’ll have our political guy there as well, Maury, Tom Roeser.

A pause. Then Stans said, “okay. Okay.”

So I greeted my ex-boss in the Quaker lobby at 6 :45 to take him in to see Stuart and together we’d go down one flight in the Merchandise Mart to the M & M Club.

“I am sure you will put aside our past disagreements,” said Stans stiffly, as we walked to Stuart’s office, “as I have.”

Yes indeed. Then an uncomfortable silence as we trod down the carpeted hallway to the CEOs office.

Once in the smallish room at the M & M Club, Bob Stuart in good humor said that he was going to check on us to see that we would order oatmeal. Everyone chortled and had comments except Stans who was lost in interior thought. His distance seemed to put a damper on everyone.

Without a word, Stans distributed to all a paper that showed the Illinois quota for contributions to Nixon. It was about $10 million in size but all of us breathed easy because in those days when there was no limits on the size of individual donations, Clem Stone was good for at least $2 million and perhaps more. Bob Stuart commented on this but Stans, sipping his coffee, put it down with finality and said:

“Nope. That’s what I want to tell you. Clem Stone’s not included in this. He and other major givers will be handled by me personally so what he gives is not in your quota. I’ll handle him personally.”

What about, let us say, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s?

“Not included. I’ll handle him personally.”

Well, Stuart said soberly, that’s a little different than we thought.

“That’s the way it is.”

There was a click of coffee cups and the waiter came in to see if we wanted more. Nope, we said, just leave us alone. Thank you.

“Well,” said Stuart, “I was thinking of starting a $1,000 Club. Every who wants to join contributes at least $1000 to Nixon.”

“No good, Bob,” Stans snapped. “Politics has grown far bigger than that. That was okay way back then. Not now. I want you to do something for me.”

We sat like we were being tutored. Indeed, we would be.

“Bob, I will be coming back here next week at this time.” He checked his watch. “Next week at this very time. We will meet here for breakfast next week at this time. I want all of you to be here—and, Bob, I want you to invite Joe Block to this breakfast. Tell him I’ll be here.”

Joe Block? All of us started. Joseph L. Block was the 70-year-old retired chairman of Inland Steel, the nation’s seventh biggest steelmaker which had consistently outperformed its bigger rivals in return on invested capital and withstood recessions. The only major steel producer in Chicago, Inland dominated the lucrative Midwest steel market, concentrating on itsd huge Indiana Harbor complex in East Chicago. It sold 70% of its output within a 200 mile radius.

Stuart said what was on all our minds.

“Nice try, Maurie but Joe Block is a Democrat. A liberal Democrat. He and his family have been tied to Democrats and to Democratic initiatives for years, since Adlai Stevenson was governor.”

I added: “And Joe Block is not just a Democrat but has been celebrated as a liberal paragon, playing a prominent role in the state’s fair-employment law, pushing a redevelopment program for East Chicago. He and his brother Philip are on the Democratic party’s A-List of high donors.”

Stans looked at us as if we had been babbling irrelevancies.

He said slowly, without a trace of smile, with simple words as if he were talking to retardates. Since I was the last to speak he directed his words to me:

“I-know-who-Joe-Block-is-and-he-knows-me. You-didn’t-hear-me. I-simply-said-invite-Joe-Block-to-breakfast-next week-at-this-very-time. Tell-him-I-will-be-here.”

We were all sickened at being reduced to stenographers but that was it. The meeting was concluded. We broke up and Stans trudged off down the Merchandise Mart corridor to the entrance to catch a cab.

Bob Stuart telephoned Joe Block who wasn’t in. Bob was going out of town so the return call came to me.

“This is Joe Block. Bob Stuart left a message?”

Yes sir. The message is that former commerce secretary Maurice Stans was in today and invites you to have breakfast with him…and us…at the M & M Club at the Merchandise Mart one week from today at 7 a.m.

“Maurice Stans?”

Yes sir.

“Very well.”

Very surprising. I was expecting him to say: Maurice Stans? Why would I want to have breakfast with him?

The week couldn’t pass fast enough for me to see what old Maury had up his sleeve for the patrician of the liberal Democratic party.


  1. As I recall, it was Anthony Kennedy who reasoned that Roe must stand because of Stare Decisis. In the logic articulated by Giuliani, this would presumably qualify him as the sort of "strict constructionist, like Alito and Roberts" that the mayor said he would appoint to the high court. After all, when he said "like Alito and Roberts," he didn't say exactly HOW MUCH like Alito and Roberts, did he?

    The more Rudy talks about his position on abortion, the worse it sounds.