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Chuck Ludlam on the Watergate Reform Bill

Chuck Ludlam

The Watergate committee’s final report recommended regulating campaign activities and contributions, establishing a permanent special prosecutor, and creating a congressional legal service. As counsel for the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Ludlam helped draft the Watergate reform bill. In an excerpt from his oral history interview in 2003, Ludlam describes the myriad challenges subcommittee staff encountered in bringing the bill to a vote. You may read Chuck Ludlam’s full interview here.

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Ludlam: The Watergate Committee had these recommendations, which were quite voluminous, and they packaged them into this bill. The original bill, S. 495, passed the Senate on July 26, 1976, 91-5. Then it died at the end of the congress. It was reintroduced as S. 555 on February 1, 1977, then eventually became law on October 26, 1978 as public law 95-521. So it took us forty-six months to enact this bill into law. The problem was that there wasn’t, as time passed, from the Nixon resignation on August 8, 1974, the momentum for reform dissipated. Worse than that, there were no members in the congress who wanted any of these reforms. There was nobody in the executive branch who wanted any of these reforms. Basically, this was a staff triumph. Basically, it was the staff, Dick Wegman in particular, who knew that if we ever got this up for a vote, we’d win the vote. The problem was getting a vote. The votes were overwhelming, because people had to vote for it once it got scheduled. But getting it scheduled was a bitch, and I’ll tell you about a maneuver that I personally did with [Speaker of the House] Tip O’Neill at one point which was critical to the operation.

The congressional representation stuff, the Senate legal counsel, was part of the bill and was contingent upon passing the larger bill. It was a hostage to the larger bill. So if the larger bill had failed we wouldn’t have gotten the Senate legal counsel provision. It was not a controversial provision, we did have some problems with it, which I will explain. It was the afterthought in the bill, financial disclosure, special prosecutor, revolving door, all of which were very, very controversial. The special prosecutor has proven to be controversial over time, but revolving door and financial disclosure at the time were extremely controversial and now they are routine. Everybody has, I think, learned to accept them, with all of the warts and problems, but at the time, the idea that you should disclose your personal finances to the public and that there would be restrictions on post employment, you know, downtown with a lobby firm, were wildly controversial and hated, basically, by the staff up here. The members and the staff hated financial disclosure. The members and the staff hated revolving door because that applied to members with a cooling off period of one year.