George McGovern, the former senator who died this weekend at 90, ran against Richard Nixon for the presidency in 1972. McGovern lost in one of the country’s most lopsided elections.
But as a candidate, he was authentic and stood for decency and accountability, qualities Nixon never understood. McGovern also opposed the Vietnam War, which had divided the United States, and that too stoked Nixon’s paranoia.
Nixon ran the ’72 campaign with dirty tricks that included a ‘third rate burglary’ of the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington. The botched burglary made the news during the last couple of months of the campaign but didn’t sway voters. But it was Nixon’s cover up of the burglary that grew into the Watergate scandal and finally forced him to resign two years later.
Post-Watergate investigations by Congress and the SEC revealed campaign finance practices gone wild — including Nixon’s high-pressure tactics to squeeze contributions from public companies. Many of those companies, it turned out, kept slush funds they used at home and abroad to influence elections and buy favors from crooked politicians.
The trail overseas led the SEC to about 400 U.S. companies, including lots of household names, who admitted bribing foreign officials. That ignited a global scandal and caused the collapse of friendly governments in Japan, Holland, and Italy.
And that’s when Congress and President Jimmy Carter decided to act. They crafted into law what became the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977.
George McGovern’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on the FCPA or in its official history.
But if not for McGovern and the chain of events he set in motion, there wouldn’t be an FCPA today.