The down and dirty history of secret spending, PACs gone wild, and the epic four-decade fight over the only kind of political capital that matters.
Mother Jones —By Andy Kroll
“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.“—Mark Hanna, 19th-century mining tycoon and GOP fundraiser
Bill Liedtke was racing against time. His deadline was a little more than a day away. He’d prepared everything—suitcase stuffed with cash, jet fueled up, pilot standing by. Everything but the Mexican money.
The date was April 5, 1972. Warm afternoon light bathed the windows at Pennzoil Company headquarters in downtown Houston. Liedtke, a former Texas wildcatter who’d risen to be Pennzoil’s president, and Roy Winchester, the firm’s PR man, waited anxiously for $100,000 due to be hand-delivered by a Mexican businessman named José Díaz de León. When it arrived, Liedtke (pronounced LIT-key) would stuff it into the suitcase with the rest of the cash and checks, bringing the total to $700,000. The Nixon campaign wanted the money before Friday, when a new law kicked in requiring that federal campaigns disclose their donors. Maurice Stans, finance chair of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, or CREEP, had told fundraisers they needed to beat that deadline. Liedtke said he’d deliver.
Díaz de León finally arrived later that afternoon, emptying a large pouch containing $89,000 in checks and $11,000 in cash onto Liedtke’s desk. The donation was from Robert Allen, president of Gulf Resources and Chemical Company. Allen—fearing his shareholders would discover that he’d given six figures to Nixon—had funneled it through a Mexico City bank to Díaz de León, head of Gulf Resources’ Mexican subsidiary, who carried the loot over the border.
Winchester and another Pennzoil man rushed the suitcase to the Houston airport, where a company jet was waiting on the tarmac. The two men climbed aboard, bound for Washington. They touched down in DC hours later and sped directly to CREEP’s office at 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, across the street from the White House. They arrived at 10 p.m.