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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Senator Spurned Campaign Contributions

The Center for Responsible Politics reported last week that Tammy Baldwin, Tommy Thompson, and special interest groups will spend more than $17,000,000 on this fall's Senate race. Compare that to Sen. William Proxmire's campaigning style.

"We spent under two hundred dollars," recalled Proxmire's chief of staff, Ron Tammen, about the 1976 and 1982 elections. "No staff, no advertising. The only money we spent was for stamps to send letters back to people who had sent us money on their own.

"Somebody in Eau Claire sends us ten dollars and we'd have to write Mrs. Jones a letter back and say, 'Very thoughtful of you, but I'm not taking any money.'"

Questioned Ethics

When lobbyists delivered Christmas baskets outside his door every December, Proxmire donated them to food pantries. In 1983 he denounced donations from special interests as little more than legalized bribery:

"Most of these PACs are run by hard-eyed realists. They know what they want and how to go about getting it. They are operated as a business and contributions are an investment. Those investments are expected to pay a return."

Campaigned Face-To-Face

His solution? Just say no. Don't become obligated to special interests in order to buy advertising and media time. Meet voters in person.

"His campaigning style was so different from anything now," Proxmire aide Matt Flynn remembered. "He would simply get in the car by himself with no driver, no security, and nobody at all, just drive around. And he'd go out to the flower show at the State Fair. He'd go to, you know, the Bucks, the Brewers; whenever he was in town, he'd go wherever there was a crowd and just stand there.

"And he kept a clicker in his left pocket and at the end of the day, he'd write down how many hands he'd shake. And he estimated he'd shaken several million hands in his career. But I've never met anybody who lived in Wisconsin during that time that hadn't shaken his hand, any adult."

In 30 years Proxmire never lost an election.

:: Posted in Curiosities on September 20, 2012
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