Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)
U.S. Senate office    Bills 107th (Thomas)     Feingold Senate Committee
Updated March 7, 2003 

Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, Sen. Russ Feingold is best know for his advocacy of campaign finance reform.  The McCain-Feingold bill first made its appearance in September 1995 as the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 1995.  The bill encountered stiff opposition and underwent a number of changes in successive years (1997-S.25).  Congress finally passed the measure in March 2002, and President Bush quietly signed it into law (Public Law No. 107-155) on March 27, 2002

Feingold's advocacy of campaign finance reform is not the only time he has stood against prevailing currents.  On October 25, 2001 he was the lone Senator to vote against the counter-terrorism bill, citing concerns about infringements on civil liberties.  President Bush signed the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 357-66 and in the Senate by 98-1, the next day.  Filmmaker/author Michael Moore singled Feingold out as a "Profile in Courage" for this vote.  Feingold took another maverick stand early in 2001 when he was one of eight Democratic Senators to support confirmation of John Ashcroft as Attorney General.

During the 107th Congress, Feingold served on the Judiciary, Foreign Relations, and Budget Committees, as well as the Special Committee on Aging; he was chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee (Judiciary) and the Africa Subcommittee (Foreign Relations).  Feingold keeps in touch with constituents in Wisconsin by holding "Listening Sessions" in each of the state's 72 counties each year.

Feingold began a College Tour on November 11, 2001, which had him travelling nationally and fueled some speculation.  He spoke on the theme "What We Can Do For Our Nation."  (Initial stops: Nov. 11 - University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; Nov. 19 - University of Iowa in Iowa City; Nov. 26 - University of Texas at Austin; Jan. 14 - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).  Nonetheless Feingold minimized his interest in a presidential run; for example, according to a January 22, 2002 AP article he put the odds at 1 in 100.   Feingold also visited the key state of New Hampshire back on April 23, 2001, on a trip that was primarily focused on appearances in Maine with Sen. Collins.  He toured Timberland footwear, met with Gov. Shaheen, and spoke with College Democrats at the University of New Hampshire.  Feingold's visit there during the 2000 campaign prompted several students to form the "Feingold Fan Club" 1.

Feingold made a low-key announcement that he would not run for president on the night of March 1, 2003 while celebrating his 50th birthday at the Harmony Bar in Madison, Wisconsin.  This was first reported by WisPolitics on March 5; Feingold later explained to the Wisconsin State Journal that he did not want to put his Senate seat at risk (he faces re-election in 2004) and that "it would take probably something close to a miracle" for a presidential campaign to work out.

Strengths and Weaknesses
+ Feingold's sustained leadership on campaign finance reform has given him a degree of prominence and enables him to make a strong appeal to reformers.
+ Feingold has one of the most progressive records in the U.S. Senate.
+ Hailing from Wisconsin, Feingold could do well in neigboring Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.

"What We Can Do For Our Nation" at University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, November 11, 2001.

2...  Talking to reporters outside the U.S. District Court after oral arguments on Title I of the BCRA, December 4, 2002. 
1...  Celebrating imminent passage of campaign finance reform legislation following the cloture vote in the Senate on March 20, 2002. 

1. "The Feingold Fan Club is comprised of a handful of students from the University of New Hampshire as well as residents of the local community of Durham and Dover, New Hampshire. We formed in November, 2000, after Senator Feingold visited the UNH Democrats during his travels in support of Democrats in the 2000 elections. We were all impressed by Senator Feingold's intelligence, honesty, political views, and eagerness to encourage students to take part in the political process. He struck a chord among all of us and left a greater impression than any other politican had up to that point."

Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2003  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action