Maurice Stans, 90, the son of a house painter who became secretary of commerce and a master fund-raiser for President Richard M. Nixon, then labored for years to clear himself of the taint of Watergate, died April 14 of heart failure in Pasadena, Calif.
Mr. Stans worked with those who were at the heart of Watergate and its associated abuses. He raised nearly $60 million, money that helped make them possible. But it became clear that he was never truly a member of Nixon’s inner circle, and he said he knew nothing of the conspiracies and cover-ups.
Although he was investigated and prosecuted, Mr. Stans was never convicted of any knowing violation of the law in connection with what burgeoned into one of the nation’s most notorious political scandals, unseating the president and destroying many careers and reputations.
He did plead guilty to five nonwillful violations of campaign finance laws and paid a $5,000 fine. But he said he did so only to avoid the additional cost of fending off accusations. For years, he asked the nation to “give me back my good name.”
Mr. Stans suffered a heart attack last week and died at Huntington Memorial Hospital. His wife, Penny, was at his side, a niece told the Associated Press.
A millionaire banker and accountant with small-town roots, Mr. Stans rose to prominence in a way reminiscent of the Horatio Alger stories he fancied as a child. He was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s budget director and helped give the nation one of the few balanced budgets since World War II.
In a 1992 Washington Post interview, Mr. Stans revealed secrets of his fund-raising success.
“Nobody ever gets offended by being asked for too much,” he confided to reporter Ken Ringle. People, he said, “are flattered by being asked to give more than they can afford.”
In Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign, Mr. Stans said, “the money operation” was divided in two parts: “getting the money, which was my job,” and handling it, which was someone else’s.
According to testimony at the Watergate hearings, Mr. Stans was asked once for $50,000 for a purpose that seemed possibly irregular. Later, when he was asked what the money was for, according to the testimony, he replied, “I don’t want to know, and you don’t want to know.”
Maurice H. Stans was born March 22, 1908, in Shakopee, Minn. He was valedictorian at Shakopee High School, and a teacher advised him to take up accounting. After graduation, he went to Chicago, working as a stenographer by day and studying business at Northwestern University at night.
Without finishing his degree, he began work as an office boy for the Alexander Grant & Co. accounting firm in Chicago. In three years he was a partner; by 1938, he was managing partner.
In 1953, he came to Washington as a consultant to Congress. In 1955, he became deputy postmaster general, winning a reputation for great fiscal competence. In March 1958, he became director of the then-Bureau of the Budget.
Mr. Stans was a key fund-raiser in the 1968 campaign that brought Nixon to the White House for his first term, and he returned to fund-raising for the reelection campaign.
He was indicted along with former attorney general John N. Mitchell on 10 counts of perjury and conspiracy in connection with a $200,000 contribution from fugitive financier Robert Vesco. A jury acquitted them in 1974.
The charges to which he later pleaded guilty “were two charges of nonwillful receipt of illegal campaign contributions -- the word `nonwillful’ appears both in the charge and in the judge’s ruling -- and three minor counts of late reporting of contributions,” he said. “Out of nearly a million transactions that year!”
And, he said, it “had nothing to do with Watergate.”
After the Nixon years, Mr. Stans was prominent in the business world, and he spent a good deal of time trying to see that his record was correctly described in the media. A few years after the Watergate trials, he wrote a book, “The Terrors of Justice.” A later work was “One of the President’s Men.”
Although reporting on the Watergate era indicated that Nixon had not been loyal to him at the time, he nevertheless raised money for Nixon’s presidential library. “I felt an obligation,” he said.
Mr. Stans’s first wife, Kathleen Carmody, died in 1984. In addition to his wife, Penny, survivors include two sons and a daughter.