December 15, 2005

Former Senator Proxmire dies at 90

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - William Proxmire, a Democrat who
spent three decades in the U.S. Senate battling what he thought
was wasteful and senseless government spending, died on
Thursday at the age of 90, congressional officials said.

Proxmire, who left the Senate in 1989, had been suffering
from Alzheimer's disease for years.

"Senator Proxmire leaves behind an unparalleled legacy as a
defender of the American taxpayer and one of the hardest
working senators in U.S. history," Sen. Russ Feingold, another
Wisconsin Democrat, said in a statement.

First elected to the Senate from Wisconsin in 1957 upon the
death of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Proxmire rose to head the Senate
banking committee.

Proxmire instigated the "Golden Fleece Award" in 1975 to
highlight what he considered wasteful government spending. His
first went to National Science Foundation for an $84,000 study
on why people fall in love.

Many supporters said his 13 years of fleece awards killed
many wasteful programs but others claimed he went after many
useful scientific projects that in the end produced important

As a gadfly with an independent streak and a flare for
publicity, Proxmire was not afraid of going against his party's
leadership, including President Lyndon Johnson. Proxmire had
battled Johnson when the Texan was Senate Democratic leader and
later turned against Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War.

In addition to fighting government waste, Proxmire was a
major force in getting an anti-genocide treaty passed by the

Beginning in 1967, Proxmire gave a speech every day the
Senate was in session, urging passage of the treaty. After more
than 3,000 such speeches, the Senate finally approved the
anti-genocide measure in 1986.

Born on November 11, 1915, in Lake Forest, Illinois,
Proxmire attended Yale University and Harvard graduate school.
He was in military intelligence in World War Two and served in
the Wisconsin legislature in 1951 and 1952.

After three unsuccessful runs for governor of Wisconsin, he
won the special election in 1957 to replace Joseph McCarthy,
the Republican who built his reputation on fighting communism.
Proxmire was re-elected five times.

In his last two campaigns, Proxmire refused to accept
campaign donations and spent just a few hundred dollars of his
own to be returned to the Senate.

(PEOPLE-PROXMIRE; Reporting by David Wiessler, editing by
Doina Chiacu; [email protected])