U.S. Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold Share 10th John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award
Boston, MA, May 24, 1999 - The two U.S. Senators who reached across the aisle to join forces in a bi-partisan effort to reform the way political campaigns are financed were honored today by members of President Kennedy's family as the winners of the 1999 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, who sought to address their respective party's fundraising excesses and regulate the torrent of special interest money pouring into each party's coffers with the introduction of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation, were presented the prestigious award for political courage at a ceremony attended by President Kennedy's children, Caroline and John, his brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, and his sisters Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Patricia Kennedy Lawford, and Jean Kennedy Smith. Saturday would have been President Kennedy's 82nd birthday. It is the tenth Profile in Courage Award and the first to be shared by two elected American politicians.
"Senators McCain and Feingold demonstrated the kind of political courage my father admired most," said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. "They defied the extraordinary pressures of partisan politics and special interests and stood up for what they felt was best for the country. In doing so, they suffered the displeasure of their party leaders and key constituency groups and even risked reelection to office. In a time when politics and government have been marked by incivility and partisanship, these senators distinguished themselves by their political courage and by their vision of what was right for the country."
Kennedy presented McCain and Feingold each with a sterling silver lantern representing a beacon of hope. The lantern, designed by Edwin Schlossberg, Inc. and crafted by Tiffany & Co., was accompanied by a $25,000 prize which Senators McCain and Feingold have instructed be donated to charity.
In presenting the Profile in Courage Award, Caroline Kennedy read the following citation:
United in the belief that America's very democracy is threatened by the flood of money in our electoral system, two men, quite different in personal and political background, came together to propose real change and reform in the financing of this country's elections. In so doing, they have dedicated themselves to an issue that at first blush appears to have little public reward. Still, they have fought for their position with a determination and vigor that has put their public lives or political ambitions at risk.
One man, Senator Russell Feingold, seeking his first re-election to the United States Senate unilaterally adopted the financial restrictions he had proposed in the Senate - while his opponent was free to raise and spend money at will. While ultimately successful, a once comfortable race for re-election came as close to the edge of defeat as possible.
The other man, Senator John McCain, intent on his first attempt at capturing his party's nomination for the Presidency, stood in open and painful opposition to the position taken by his party's leadership. Despite the intense pressures and feelings that are unique to such internal political struggles, this man has once again in his life not wavered or sought relief from his situation.
Such acts of courage are of greater meaning in the context of today's public cynicism about whether people in elective office have the steel or resolve to stop the corrosive effect of money on the electoral process.
John F. Kennedy warned that the "high court of history" would judge all elected officials one day on whether they were people "with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligations or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest."
John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, are two courageous men who have nothing to fear before the court of history.
Described by one recipient as the "Nobel in Government," the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to an elected official who has withstood strong opposition from constituents, powerful interest groups or adversaries to follow what they believe is the right course of action. The award is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage , which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in. The award, which is accompanied by a $25,000 stipend and a silver lantern representing a beacon of hope, was created by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 and is presented annually, on or near May 29, in celebration of President Kennedy's birthday.
Senators Feingold and McCain were chosen as the recipients of the tenth Profile in Courage Award by an 11-member committee whose chairman is John Seigenthaler, Chairman of the Freedom Forum at the First Amendment Center, Vanderbilt University. The committee's other members are: David Burke, former executive vice president of ABC News and president of CBS News; Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund; Edward M. Kennedy, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts; Caroline Kennedy, author, attorney, and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; John F. Kennedy, Jr., editor, attorney and vice chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; David McCullough, historian and author of the Pulitzer prize-winning biography Truman; Mary Reed, entrepreneur and chairperson of the Kennedy Library Foundation's Education Committee; Alan Simpson, former U.S. Senator of Wyoming, and director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; Olympia Snowe, U.S. Senator from Maine; and William vanden Heuvel, attorney, investment banker, and former special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Considered to be the most vocal supporter of campaign finance reform in the Congress, Senator McCain first approached Senator Feingold in 1994 and asked him to join in drafting legislation that would limit the influence of private money in public life, level the political playing field between incumbents and challengers, and eliminate corruption.
Republican leadership strongly opposed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation because it eliminated the advantage held by the Republican party in raising "soft money," a euphemism for political donations that can be made without limit, through a loophole in the present laws, to a political party. And because the proposed legislation also reduced the financial advantage incumbents enjoyed over challengers, it enjoyed only the nominal support of many Democrats holding office. Although the bill had support from Common Cause, Public Citizen, the League of Women Voters and Public Campaign, its detractors -- including the ACLU, National Right to Life and the National Rifle Association -- argued that it would limit free speech.
McCain and Feingold nevertheless campaigned relentlessly for radical campaign finance reform, especially the ban on "soft money." McCain's position put him in direct conflict with his party's leadership, particularly with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senator Mitch McConnell, chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Although the McCain-Feingold legislation failed in the Senate, Senator Feingold still refused all offers of "soft money," and some hard money in the form of contributions from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in his 1998 re-election bid against Wisconsin Republican Congressman Mark Neumann. Because of his own refusal to accept "soft money" and his opponent's acceptance of millions of dollars worth of negative advertising by the Republican Party, anti-abortion forces and other interest groups opposed to his reelection, Senator Feingold saw his 15 to 20 point lead in the polls over Neumann disappear. Feingold narrowly won his reelection by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.
On January 19, 1999, Senators McCain and Feingold re-introduced the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 1999.
Past winners of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award are former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliott, Sr. of Alabama; former U.S. Congressman Charles Weltner of Georgia; former Governor of Connecticut Lowell Weicker; former Governor of New Jersey James Florio; U.S. Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas; former U.S. Congressman Michael Synar of Oklahoma; Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin Cherubini; Charles Price, Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama; and Garfield County, Montana Attorney Nickolas C. Murnion. In December, 1998, a special Profile in Courage Award was presented to eight political leaders of Northern Ireland and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the chairman of the peace talks, in recognition of the extraordinary political courage they demonstrated in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement.
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum - which celebrates its 20th birthday this year - is the nation's official memorial to John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. Designed by architect I.M. Pei, the Library sits on a ten-acre, waterfront park on Boston's Columbia Point. The Kennedy Library is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.
Tom McNaught (617) 514-1656