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CNN: Forgetting a key lesson from Watergate?


-By John Blake

February 4, 2012- A bungled break-in, Deep Throat, a defiant President Richard Nixon declaring, "I am not a crook."

These are what often come to mind when people hear the word Watergate. But another legacy of the infamous scandal has re-emerged in this year's presidential race.

Many Americans may not remember, but public outrage over Watergate led to the enactment of a series of campaign finance reforms designed to restore the country's faith in government.

While the nation marks the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in later this year, some observers say our political leaders have already forgotten a key lesson of Watergate: that anonymous money corrupts political campaigns.

"Watergate was basically a campaign finance scandal," says Chris Dolan, a political science professor at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.

Dolan and others say this historical amnesia can be seen in the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows corporations and unions to give unlimited campaign donations to so-called super PACs as long as those political action committees are not coordinated with a candidate's campaign.

Super PACs can quickly pull in huge amounts of money. They have the option of disclosing their donors and donations either semiannually or quarterly in a nonelection year, and quarterly or monthly in an election year.

Critics say super PACs are dangerous because they can delay disclosing details of donations until after elections take place, and they can easily work around restrictions against coordinating with a candidate's campaign.

"Citizens United will lead to a future that will make Watergate look tame," Dolan says. "There will be more elections with fewer controls, more spending and great secrecy. The post-Watergate regulations are, in effect, dead."

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