By Richard Jones, Byrd Center Student Intern
Read Part I here >>
Senator Robert C. Byrd made his issues of the campaign financing system in the United States and its reform part of his agenda for the 100th Congress. In 1988, Byrd and Oklahoma Senator David Boren introduced campaign financing reform legislation. The bill set voluntary spending limits for Senate candidates in general elections in all states. The bill was met with opposition from the Senate Republican Party who led a filibuster against the legislation, arguing that the proposal favored Democrats and would restrict American citizens from participating in elections, with Senator Mitch McConnell arguing that Congress would never agree on the extent of these limitations to campaign contributions. Despite a Democratic majority in the Senate, the move for a cloture vote to end the filibuster failed seven times, though Byrd threatened to keep the Senate in continuous session until the legislation was resolved. Republican senators subsequently scattered and Byrd moved to have the Senate sergeant-at-arms gather the absentee senators to participate in a record eighth cloture vote which also failed . Byrd withdrew the bill after this but made clear his intention to call up the legislation in the future.
Byrd remained true to his word. In 1989 during the 101st Congress, he attempted again to propose campaign financing reform by cosponsoring a bill to limit contributions from political action committees to all Senate candidates. Byrd also doubled down on his criticisms of the campaign financing system, noting that the amount of time it takes for a candidate to raise money distracts them from their work at the capitol, and how the system continues to erode American citizens' faith in the Congressional system. In 1990, Byrd spoke on the subject of the Budget Resolution, arguing that a campaign financing reform bill would help significantly in saving people’s money while helping to restore faith into the system, though nothing developed from this. In 1991, Byrd cosponsored a bill by Senator Boren placing spending limits on campaigns and praised the bill as it would keep political offices in the United States open to more than just the wealthiest candidates. Ultimately though, the bill was vetoed by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, and a vote to override his veto failed to muster requisite support.
In the 103rd Congress, Byrd cosponsored another bill by Boren regarding Congressional spending limits and election reform. This bill was passed by Congress though it was not enacted before the end of the session, thus no development was made . By 1996, Byrd took to criticizing the Republican Party’s “Contract with America's” legislative agenda, in particular their ignorance of the issue of excessive campaign fundraising which Byrd felt was one of the root issues plaguing Congress. Byrd also lamented the efforts of Republicans to subvert campaign financing reform legislation throughout the years and the failure for any major developments of reform to occur. Nonetheless, Byrd’s efforts of campaign financial reform continued throughout the remainder of the 1990s and into the new millennium.
In 2001, the debate for campaign financing reform once again took the forefront in the 107th Congress. The legislation was sponsored by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold and Republican Senator John McCain and was passed by the Senate in 2002, supported by many senators including Byrd. The legislation became the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and amended the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. This legislation helped to regulate the financing of political campaigns and address the increased amounts of soft money and issue advocacy advertisements in these campaigns. The legislation was also arguably the most major development in campaign financing reform since the 1970s, and was seen as controversial given how it might affect the 2002 Congressional Elections and the 2004 Presidential Election, as well as perceived violations to the First Amendment . The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act is currently the most recent federal legislation to address the issues of campaign finance in the United States.
Senator Byrd is credited as one of the Senators that kept the issue of campaign financing reform prevalent in Congress. While his efforts were largely unsuccessful, Byrd’s persistence on the issue throughout his time as senator influenced fellow senators to become more involved in reforming the campaign financing system in the United States. In the same year of Byrd’s death in 2010, the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission was decided, which held that the government cannot limit or restrict the amount of fundraising for political campaigns by corporations, billionaires, committees and American citizens as it violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment. This proved to be controversial considering it arguably made the campaign financing system worse than it already was and undermines the developments made by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, leading many to consider the issue of campaign financing reform to be a lost cause . Despite this, Byrd’s efforts with campaign financing reform remain an important aspect of his time as senator along with continuing to be a relevant issue in the United States.
 Lauter, David. “GOP Senators Reject Curbs on Spending for Elections.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, February 27, 1988. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-02-27-mn-12096-story.html.
 Boren, David L. “S.3 - 103rd Congress (1993-1994): House of Representatives Campaign Spending Limit and Election Reform Act of 1993.” Congress.gov, September 30, 1994. https://www.congress.gov/bill/103rd-congress/senate-bill/3?r=18&s=3.
 Monteiro, Jeremy. "A Profile in Courage: The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and the First Amendment." DePaul L. Rev. 52 (2002): 83.
 Teachout, Zephyr. "Facts in Exile: Corruption and Abstraction in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission." Loy. U. Chi. LJ 42 (2010): 295.
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