Boland Amendment

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The Boland Amendment featured in the iran-contra affair and implicated President ronald reagan in a failure to perform his constitutional duty to execute the laws faithfully.

From 1982 through 1986, Congress annually enacted the Boland Amendment as a rider to Defense Department appropriations. The amendment prohibited military assistance to the Contras, the armed opposition to Nicaragua's communist government. The amendment applied to any agency or entity of the United States "involved in intelligence activities." The President signed the amendment annually, although opposing it on policy grounds. Reagan never intimated his belief that its restrictions were unconstitutional or did not apply to him, to any of his executive officers, or to the National Security Council (NSC). When the Iran-Contra Affair became public, the President made inconsistent statements; only then did his administration take the position that the Boland Amendment did not extend to the NSC.

While the amendment was operative, however, the administration, including the director of the NSC, had consistently declared that it complied with the amendment in letter and spirit. In fact, executive officers in the White House had covertly aided the Contras. Furthermore, all involved acknowledged that the amendment prohibited solicitation of funds from other countries. Yet, while the amendment was operative, funds were solicited from Saudi Arabia and Taiwan for military assistance to the Contras, and monies from Iran were used for the same purpose.

The power to appropriate conditionally would be an empty one if the President could command his subordinates to violate an act of Congress that he had signed. Funds raised by the government must, under Article I, section 9, go through the federal Treasury and be in accord with laws passed by Congress. Otherwise, Congress's power over the purse would be debilitated if not meaningless. President Reagan either failed in his constitutional duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" or participated along with high-ranking subordinates in the clandestine violation of law.

Leonard W. Levy

(see also: Constitutional History, 1980–1989.)


United States : President ' s Special Review Board 1987 Tower Commisson Report. New York: Bantam-Times Books.