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Campaign Finance Limits Were Feingold's Legacy

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Campaign Finance Limits Were Feingold's Legacy

Campaign Finance Limits Were Feingold's Legacy

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

As NPR's Peter Overby reports, this has been a rough year, for both the senator and his best-known piece of legislative.

PETER OVERBY: Russ Feingold came to Washington as an outsider. In 1992, his first Senate race, he produced some rather off-kilter campaign ads - like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)

RUSS FEINGOLD: They said I couldn't beat an incumbent state senator. But I did. Now they say I won't be your next United States senator. I don't have a fortune to spend on expensive TV commercials like my opponents, but I don't think wild spending is what people want in a senator anyway.

OVERBY: Once elected, and even re-elected, Feingold never became an inside player. Meredith McGehee is a good government lobbyist who worked with Feingold on campaign finance issues.

MEREDITH MCGEHEE: He made that decision when he came in, that the way he wanted to serve as a senator was not to go along and get along, or even to climb the leadership ladder.

OVERBY: So Feingold's biggest legacy is the law he crafted with Republican Senator John McCain. A law that stanched the flow of six and seven figure checks into the national party committees, and stopped members of Congress from soliciting similar contributions for anyone else. Here's Feingold's speech before the final floor vote.

FEINGOLD: In this moment, we can show the American people that we are the Senate that they want us to be. We can pass this legislation and put our lasting mark on the record of democracy.

OVERBY: But meanwhile, conservatives filed lawsuits that whittled away at McCain- Feingold. And last January, the Supreme Court crippled it. The Citizens United decision allows corporations and unions to spend all the money they want on ads promoting or attacking individual candidates. Democrats called a hearing. Feingold was the first witness.

FEINGOLD: This terrible decision deserves as robust a response as possible. Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake.

OVERBY: Meredith McGehee, the good government lobbyist, says lawmakers who will work to toughen up the campaign finance laws are few and far between.

MCGEHEE: It's a good thing there aren't more Russ Feingolds, according to Cleta Mitchell. She's a campaign finance lawyer who worked on the team opposing the McCain-Feingold bill.

CLETA MITCHELL: The more we can try to close that down, the better; and unwind the damage that people like Russ Feingold have done. I'm not sorry to see him go.

OVERBY: As to where he will go, Feingold gave a buildup Tuesday night.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FEINGOLD: It is on to our next adventure! Forward!

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

OVERBY: Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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