The Campaign: The Legacy of Truman Newberry

Because hapless Truman Newberry spent the then shocking sum of $195,000 to win a U.S. Senate seat from Michigan in 1918, Congress—six years later —passed the Corrupt Practices Act. The law's principal proviso is that no single donor may give more than $5,000 to any one national campaign organization. As a result, candidates who are seriously interested in winning commonly set up dozens of such organizations; thus a big contributor can simply spread his largesse around in $5,000 wads.

A tougher stipulation of the law is that each campaign committee must report its income and expenditures to Congress ten days, and...