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What is the McCain-Feingold Bill?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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The McCain-Feingold Bill is a bill that was introduced to the United States Senate in 2002 in an attempt to reform campaign financing in the United States. The bill passed after some modifications and was signed into law by then-President George Bush. Provisions of the bill took effect in November 2002, radically changing the nature of campaign financing in America. Some people felt that the law did not go far enough, and they continue to advocate for additional reforms.

This bill has a long history, with the first, defeated, version introduced in 1995. Many refinements were made, with Republican Senator John McCain and co-sponsor Democratic Senator Russell Feingold stubbornly reintroducing the bill as frequently as possible. During the presidential election of 2000, campaign financing became a bigger issue, which increased support for the bill. This allowed it to ultimately pass, but not without a few key edits to its major provisions. Some critics felt that these edits may have allowed the bill to pass, but that they weakened it considerably.

Two key issues were addressed in the McCain-Feingold Bill, which is formally known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The first was “soft money” contributions, money that comes from organizations and groups, rather than political campaigns and parties. Prior to the passage of the law, soft money could be used in unlimited amounts to support political campaigns, with no government oversight.

The bill also took on issue ads, forcing campaigns and organizations to stand behind their political advertisements. Political ads in the United States now must include the statement “paid for by Organization X,” or “I'm Candidate, and I approved this message,” so that voters understand the source of the ad and the statements it contains. This provision was designed to curtail the rampant issues advertisements that were used to manipulate voters into choosing specific candidates or into rejecting others.

Despite the efforts of the McCain-Feingold Bill, political campaigns in the United States continue to be extremely expensive, and some people feel that the monetary contributions are not always entirely above board. Politics is a big business, and since many organizations and companies stand to lose a great deal in elections, it is perhaps not surprising to see these groups fighting for the right to contribute money and other forms of assistance to political campaigns.

UnitedStatesNow is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon295581 — On Oct 07, 2012

Not really. Obama decided against campaign reform and received large donations from Hollywood corporations, large donations from Hollywood glitterati and Soros. Obama also thought that a campaign finance reform agreement would damage his chances for winning the presidency.

By cafe41 — On Oct 17, 2010

Comfyshoes-I voted for him because I am a Republican, but he was not my first choice. I hate how he always tries to compromise when the other side never comprises.

That is probably why he lost the election because it was reported that about 20% of conservatives voted for Obama in protest to the candidate McCain in the election. Now Senator Russ Feingold election is also a toss up for him.

By comfyshoes — On Oct 17, 2010

BrickBack-I agree that this legislation that Senator Russ Feingold and Senator John McCain were not effective.

I think that if candidate Mc Cain would have focused on more important issues like the economy instead of this reform maybe more people would have walked around with John McCain buttons and he might have won.

The McCain election proved how many conservatives were uncomfortable with this bill and John Mc Cain in general.

By BrickBack — On Oct 17, 2010

Crispety- What ends up happening is that the big donors instead of giving money directly will now form a 529 group that will give the money instead.

The same amount of money is involved the only difference is that now an organization is giving the money instead of the individual. This bill that Senator Russ Feingold and Senator Mc Cain signed into law should be repealed.

By Crispety — On Oct 17, 2010

Anon91692-I do not know the details of Sen. McCain contributions, but I do believe that the legislation is ineffective.

There will never be a way to take the money out of politics. I feel that people should have the right to give as much money as they please to whatever political candidate that they want. It is a matter of exercising one’s free speech.

By anon91692 — On Jun 23, 2010

Let's see if I have this right: McCain crafts a bill to reform campaign financing, presumably to limit Big corporate money from influencing elections. But McCain is on the top receiver list of money pocketed from BP oil lobbyists, about $48,000, I believe. Is there something I'm missing here or is McCain an outright conniving fraud?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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