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Profile: Townhouse Operation
Townhouse Operation was a participant or observer in the following events:
President Richard Nixon writes an action memo to senior aide H. R. Haldeman saying, “One of our most important projects for 1970 is to see that our major contributors funnel all their funds through us.” Haldeman and Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans set up a secret fund-raising enterprise, the “Townhouse Operation,” designed to bypass the Republican National Committee. By doing so, Nixon intends to ensure the GOP will field candidates suitably loyal to him, and reliably opposed to the GOP’s traditional Eastern Establishment base that Nixon so resents. Although George H. W. Bush is a charter member of that Eastern Establishment, Nixon likes and trusts him. Bush is “a total Nixon man,” Nixon once says. “He’ll do anything for the cause.” Bush is the main beneficiary of the slush fund, which is made up of about $106,000 in contributions from Texas GOP sources, but up to 18 other Republican Senate candidates also receive money from the fund. The Wall Street Journal will later lambast Townhouse, calling it a “dress rehearsal for the campaign finance abuses of Watergate, as well as for today’s loophole-ridden system.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 115-116]
Unaware that President Ford has already asked Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president (see August 16-17, 1974), the media continues to speculate on who Ford will choose for the position. Newsweek reports that George H.W. Bush “has slipped badly because of alleged irregularities in the financing of his 1970 Senate race.” White House sources tell the magazine, “there was potential embarrassment in reports that the Nixon White House had funneled about $100,000 from a secret fund known as the ‘Townhouse Operation’” into Bush’s losing Texas Senate campaign, which itself failed to report about $40,000 of the money. The news rocks Bush, who is waiting for Ford’s phone call while vacationing at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. (It is unclear who leaked the Bush information or why. Bush always believes it was Ford’s political adviser Melvin Laird; future Ford biographer James Cannon is equally sure it was Ford’s senior aide Donald Rumsfeld, a dark horse candidate for the position.) The “Townhouse Operation” is an early Nixon administration campaign machination (see Early 1970). Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski is investigating the fund; the nomination of Bush over Rockefeller would almost certainly lead Jaworski to discover that up to 18 other GOP Senate candidates received money from the same slush fund. Jaworski will manage to keep Bush’s name out of his final report, but even had Ford not already chosen Rockefeller as his vice president, the Watergate taint is lethal to Bush’s chance at the position. [Werth, 2006, pp. 114-116]
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