The Watergate Legacy

In the wake of the Watergate scandal, Congress passed a series of laws designed to reform the political process. Disclosures during the Watergate investigations of money-laundering led Congress to provide public financing of presidential elections, public disclosure of sources of funding, limits on private campaign contributions and spending, and to enforce campaign finance laws by an independent Federal Election Commission. To make it easier for the Justice Department to investigate crimes in the executive branch, Congress required the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate accusations of illegal activities.

To re-assert its budget-making authority, Congress created a Congressional Budget Office and specifically forbade a president to impound funds without its approval. To open government to public scrutiny, Congress opened more committee deliberations and enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which allows the public and press to request the declassification of government documents.

Some believe that Watergate marked a turning point when America lost its innocence and became cynical (though the same was said of JFK’s assassination). It helped usher in an era of bitter, angry, and polarized politics, paralysis in government, along with a new, aggressive attitude of the media. To the day he died in 1994, Nixon claimed he was innocent of any wrongdoing in Watergate.