Maurice Stans, a Commerce secretary in the Nixon Cabinet who later pleaded guilty to minor campaign violations in connection with the Watergate scandal but was acquitted of more serious charges, died Tuesday. He was 90.
Stans, who moved to California in 1976 and established a Pasadena financial consulting firm, had a heart attack last week and had been hospitalized at Huntington Memorial Hospital.
It was Stans' role in the 1972 election campaign that led to the Watergate-related accusations against him. When he was finance chairman for the Committee for the Reelection of the President, he was accused of trying to influence the Security and Exchange Commission in exchange for a $200,000 donation from Robert Vesco.
Stans and his co-defendant, former Atty. Gen. John Mitchell under President Richard Nixon, were acquitted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury.
But Stans later pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of violating campaign laws, although he claimed at the time that he committed the violations unknowingly. Stans faced a possible prison term, but a U.S. District Court judge limited the punishment to a $5,000 fine.
Stans was a highly effective fund-raiser during Nixon's reelection campaign. He raised almost $60 million, but some of the funds allegedly were siphoned off to pay for political dirty tricks, including the burglary at the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington's Watergate hotel.
After the White House tapes were released, Stans discovered that Nixon was scheming to use him as a fall guy. Nixon was planning to nominate him for an ambassadorship so the controversial confirmation hearings would draw attention away from the president's own battles.
Still, Stans remained fiercely loyal to Nixon. More than a decade after Watergate, Stans headed the fund-raising campaign for the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, eventually bringing in more than $25 million.
"I have been loyal all the way through," Stans said during the library's fund-raising campaign. "This was my way of expressing my respect to President Nixon."
Stans attributed his unwavering allegiance to his small town Midwestern upbringing.
He was born in Shakopee, Minn., and attended night school at Northwestern University. In 1928 he obtained a job as an office boy for a Chicago accounting firm. Three years later, he became a partner and later a managing and executive partner. When he joined the firm it had six employees. By 1955, the company had 250 employees and was the 10th largest accounting firm in the United States.
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Stans director of the budget. During the next two Democratic administrations he returned to private business.
A decade later, when Nixon was elected president, Stans was an active fund-raiser for the campaign. Nixon appointed Stans to his Cabinet as secretary of Commerce. Stans left the post in 1972 to head the fund-raising effort for Nixon's reelection campaign.
After Nixon resigned from office in disgrace and a number of his staff went to prison, Stans launched a more than two-decade effort to clear his own name. He published two books--some critics called them apologias--about his experiences: "The Terrors of Justice: The Untold Side of Watergate" in 1985, and "One of the Presidents' Men: Twenty Years with Eisenhower and Nixon" in 1995.
In 1992, shortly before the 20th anniversary of Watergate, he wrote letters to more than 25 major newspapers and newsmagazines. He urged them to "exercise discretion" as they planned their anniversary stories in characterizing former members of the Nixon White House as "Watergate 'conspirator' . . . Watergate 'character' or similar terms of lasting stigma."
Stans is survived by his wife, Penny, his sons, Steven and Theodore, and a daughter, Terrell Manley.