Longtime campaign finance reform proponent and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D., Wis.) founded a political action committee that has given just 5 percent of its income to federal candidates and political parties, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
Feingold, who is challenging Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) in 2016 to win back his old seat, founded Progressives United PAC in 2011. It has spent more than $7.1 million, but nearly half of the proceeds have gone to "raising more money for itself." Feingold, a top aide and eight former staffers have also received a sizable amount:
A top GOP official said it was incredible that Feingold's fund spent so little helping candidates and so much aiding his personal associates. Feingold is taking on Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, in 2016 to try to win back his old U.S. Senate seat.
"Time and again, Feingold arrogantly says one thing and does another," said Joe Fadness, executive director of the state Republican Party, suggesting the Wisconsin Democrat's reform rhetoric doesn't match his political actions.
Feingold officials countered by saying that his PAC was responsible for raising much more money for the candidates it endorsed through a fundraising portal. While that bolsters the bottom line, it means Feingold's PAC still spent more than $3.50 for every $1 that a candidate received in direct or indirect funding over the past four years.
In 2011, shortly after losing his Senate seat, Feingold announced that he was setting up his PAC and a political nonprofit called Progressives United Inc. The two groups have raised and spent $10 million over the past four years.
The PAC was created with the aim of "directly and indirectly supporting candidates who stand up for our progressive ideals."
But campaign records show that Feingold's PAC did little to help candidates directly, donating a mere $352,008 to federal candidates and political parties since 2011.
The Journal Sentinel reported none of the on-the-record statements provided by the Feingold campaign could explain why "so much of Progressives United's expenses went for fundraising, administration and salaries."
Nor did they say whey Feingold's PAC and nonprofit employed so many of his staffers, some of whom have since returned to his nascent campaign team.
Consider these examples:
■Cole Leystra — Feingold's campaign comptroller for seven years — was paid $291,112 by Feingold's PAC and nonprofit since February 2011, the month after Feingold left public office.
■Nancy Ballweg — Feingold's executive assistant at the Senate for 18 years — was paid $169,403 from his PAC since 2011. Her LinkedIn page says Ballweg also worked as a consultant to a Middleton dermatologist during much of this same period.
■Christopher Louderback — another veteran Feingold campaign staffer — pulled down $164,389 from the PAC and nonprofit, acting as the treasurer for both groups.
Fadness called Feingold's behavior the "ultimate hypocrisy" given his well-known rhetoric about corporate influence and corruption in politics.