Former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, who is attempting to take back the Senate seat he lost to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2010, received over $35,000 in bundled lobbyist contributions despite previously leading the push against lobbyist money and for full disclosure from bundlers.
The group who made the donation—the J Street PAC—is a liberal "pro-Israel, pro-peace" advocacy organization that is one of the biggest backers of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and has come under heavy scrutiny in the past.
According to a July lobbyist disclosure report, the J Street PAC bundled a total of $35,453 for Russ Feingold’s current senatorial campaign. The organization spent a total of $400,000 on federal lobbying and had five registered lobbyists on their payroll in 2014.
Receiving bundled lobbyist money appears to be at odds with the beliefs the former senator held and fought for before he was defeated five years ago. In his early political days in the Wisconsin state senate, a colleague said he wouldn’t even accept so much as a cup of coffee from a lobbyist.
As a senator, Feingold criticized Washington for its coziness to the lobbying sector and fought to make lobbyist money as transparent as possible.
Along with then-Sen. Barack Obama, Feingold in 2007 championed stricter ethics legislation that included a requirement to disclose lobbyist bundlers. Feingold hailed the final version of the ethics reform bill for its "unprecedented new disclosure" which included "bundling campaign contributions."
"The public voted for change last November in part because it was sick and tired of the way Washington works. The final lobbying and ethics reform bill that Congress will consider this week is landmark legislation," Feingold said in a press release at the time. "It includes a strong lobbyist gift ban, tough new restrictions on privately funded travel and corporate jet flights, much needed additional disclosure of lobbying activities, unprecedented new disclosure of all of the ways that lobbyists provide financial support to members of Congress, including bundling campaign contributions, a provision to slow the revolving door between the halls of Congress and the lobbying world, and far-reaching earmark reform."
Later, as Congress backed the tighter rules on lobbying, Feingold stated the number one priority of those in Congress should be convincing constituents that lawmakers represent their best interests and not the demands of lobbyists.
"Regardless of how reforms might impact us, our priority must be to convince our constituents that we are here to advocate their best interests, not those of well-connected lobbyists," he said in August 2007. "Ethical conduct in government should be more than an aspiration. It should be a requirement."
The organization that bundled the lobbying contributions for Feingold has launched a multi-million dollar public relations blitz in an attempt to conjure up support for President Obama’s highly unpopular Iran nuclear deal.
The J Street PAC in July began a campaign that included a combination of broadcast and print ads in national and state markets that will last for 60 days. Last week, they began running 30-second television advertisements in Maryland, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. The group is targeting lawmakers they believe are vital for the nuclear deal’s approval in September. Feingold himself recently backed the nuclear deal, saying the president has done a "good job."
However, despite the group’s efforts to increase support of the deal, many American Jews are troubled by Obama’s Iran nuclear rhetoric.
J Street has come under fire from supporters of Israel in the past.
In 2009, leading up to a J Street conference, the group was forced to scrap a poetry session after it was discovered that one of the booked participants compared Guantanamo Bay to Auschwitz while another likened Israel to a "whore." Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren refused an invitation to deliver an address at the conference, and an Israeli embassy spokesman further said J Street could "Impair Israel’s interest."
Thirteen senators and congressmen—including New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand—removed their names from the event’s host committee.
Due to the stances the organization has taken throughout the years, a leading Jewish group labeled J Street as "anti-Israel" and said they are in bed with those who seek to stigmatize the Jewish state.
"J Street is neither liberal nor pro-peace. It is anti-Israel," Jonathan Greenberg, the vice president of the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought, wrote in a July 15 op-ed published in the Hill. "Willfully or otherwise, J Street is in bed with the same illiberal forces that seek to isolate and stigmatize the Jewish state. It is playing the long game of culture rather than the short game of policy to which end its support for the Obama Administration is a first step. Its goal is to plant a flag on the far Left, demand a seat at the table in the name of tolerance, mainstream its anti-Israel ideas, and destroy the pro-Israel culture of the American Jewish community."
Feingold is one of only three 2016 Senate candidates the J Street PAC has endorsed thus far.
Multiple attempts to reach the Feingold campaign for comment were unsuccessful. Requests for information on Feingold’s campaign from the Wisconsin Democratic party were not returned. Additionally, requests for comment from the J Street PAC were not answered by press time.