Maurice Stans Dies at 90; Led Nixon Commerce Dept.

By David Rohde
Published: April 15, 1998

Correction Appended

Maurice H. Stans, a former Commerce Secretary and fund-raiser in the Nixon administration who pleaded guilty to accepting illegal campaign contributions in the Watergate scandal, died of heart failure yesterday in Pasadena, Claif. He was 90.

Toni Miller, a spokeswoman for Huntington Memorial Hospital, said Mr. Stans entered the hospital on Thursday after a heart attack.

Mr. Stans, who also served as budget director under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was best known for the role he played in President Richard M. Nixcon's 1972 re-election campaign. As finance chairman of the committee to re-Elect the President, Mr. Stans raised $62 million, a record.

But abuses later uncovered in the Watergate inquiry led to an overhaul of Federal campaign laws, and limits were placed on the amount an individual could give to one campaign.

Mr. Stans pleaded guilty on March 12, 1975, to three counts of violating the reporting sections of the Federal Election Campaign Act and two counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions. He was fined $5,000.

According to testimony in the Watergate case, Mr. Stans authorized Hugh Sloan, the campaign treasurer, to pay G. Gordon Liddy $83,000. Mr. Liddy used the money to finance a political intelligence-gathering operation, including the break-in and bugging of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington.

But for the rest of his life Mr. stans would insist that he knew nothing of Mr. Liddy's plan. He said he had simply told Mr. Sloan that higher authorities had said Mr. Liddy was authorized to get campaign money.

Mr. Stans was also a defendant in a New York trial in which he and John N. Mitchell, the former Attorney General, were accused of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury in connection with an investigation of Robert L. Vesco, the fugitive financier. After a long trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan, both Mr. Stans and Mr. Mitchell were acquitted.

In 1978, Mr. Stans wrote ''The Terrors of Justice: The Untold Side of Watergate,'' a bitter memoir fo the Watergate days in which he contended that he had been unfairly caught in the frenzy of Watergate and one of several innocent people maligned by the scandal.

Mr. Stans was born in the small town of Shakopee, Minn., in 1908. His father was a house painter and immigrant from Belgium. Stans studied at Northwestern University and Columbia University, never reeviving a degree but becoming a certified public accountant in 1928.

Joining the Alexander Grant & company accounting firm in Chicago, he rose to exectuvie partner and turned it into one of the largest accounting firms in the country. He would eventually become a millionaire. After serving on a Federal panel and performing government consulting work, he was named Deputy Postmaster General in 1955, deputy budget director in 1957 and budget director in 1958.

After John F. Kennedy was elected President, Mr. Stans held a variety of senior posts in the banking industry. He returned to government as the commerce Secretary in the Nixon Administration in 1969.

In a letter he sent to news organizations in 1992, Mr. Stans requested that they ''exercise discretion'' in any 20th anniversary articles about Watergate when they identified someone as a Watergate conspirator, ''Watergate 'character' or similar term of lasting stigma.''

Despite his vigorous efforts to distance himself from Watergate, Mr. Stans later spearheaded the effort to raise funds for the Nixon Presidental Library, raising over $20 million and serving as the chairman of the board of the library.

''I felt an obligation to Nixon as I did to Eisenhower,'' he told The Post. ''Eisenhower picked up a guy with no government experience whatever and put him in charge of the federal budget. Nixon put me in charge of raising money for his campaign when I'd never raised more than $1.5 million before.''

Mr. Stans is survived by his second wife Penelope, his daughter Terrence and two sons, Steven and Theodore. His first wife, Kathleen, died in 1984 and his daughter Maureen died in 1993.

''There can be such a thing as an overdose of loyalty,'' he said in the 1992 interview. ''I may have been guilty of that.''

Correction: May 21, 1998, Thursday An obituary on April 15 about Maurice H. Stans, a former Commerce Secretary in the Nixon Administration, misstated his position at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation. Mr. Stans was finance chairman and a member of the board; he was not the chairman. This correction was delayed by an editing error.