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Campaign Finance Expert: Feingold’s PAC a ‘Legalized Slush Fund’

Feingold’s PAC padded the pockets of longtime aides and spent just 5 percent on candidates

Russ Feingold
Russ Feingold / AP
• September 14, 2016 1:50 pm

A campaign finance expert called into question Russ Feingold’s PAC over its "highly questionable spending," referring to it as a "legalized slush fund."

Paul Jossey, a lawyer who previously worked with numerous PACs and has since been vocal over the questionable operational habits of both Republican and Democratic PACs, singled out Progressives United, the PAC created by Russ Feingold, for criticism during a conference call Tuesday.

Feingold, the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin who is running to regain his old seat, spent a majority of his two decades in Washington on the front lines of campaign finance reform. He founded the Progressives United PAC in 2011 shortly after being defeated by Sen. Ron Johnson.

Feingold brought longtime top aides and staffers on board to help operate the PAC, which is shown to have spent more than $7.1 million. Half of the money the PAC spent went towards raising more money for itself.

For every dollar that the PAC spent, 95 cents went toward something other than "pure political actions," Jossey said. It also did not report any independent expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.

Roughly 95 percent of its money was put towards the likes of building a list for a future Senate run, warehousing his top political aides, and other administrative expenses, added Jossey. "This is just not a proper use of PAC spending—certainly not at this kind of ratio," he said.

Just 5 percent of the PAC’s total expenditures were contributions to Democratic candidates and committees despite Progressives United carrying a mission of "directly and indirectly supporting candidates who stand up for progressive ideals."

While Feingold’s PAC gave little in the way of contributions to fellow Democrats, the PAC did spend hundreds of thousands padding the pockets of his top aides and staffers.

Mary Irvine, Feingold’s former chief of staff, was paid more than $300,000 by Progressives United and its related nonprofit between February 2011 and July 2013 when she left to join Feingold at the U.S. State Department, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Cole Leystra, Feingold’s campaign comptroller for seven years before joining the political action committee, pulled in at least $291,112 from Progressives United entities since its foundation.

Christopher Louderback, another longtime Feingold campaign staffer, pocketed $169,389 since 2011. Nancy Ballweg, who served as Feingold’s executive assistant for 18 years during his time in the Senate, made $169,403.

Feingold paid himself $77,000 from both his political action committee and nonprofit. More than $42,000 was also spent buying Feingold’s 2013 book, While America Sleeps: A Wake-up Call for the post-9/11 Era.

"It’s very disappointing from Mr. Feingold who has spent a career in the campaign finance weeds and made this a major issue of his public life to use this PAC essentially as a legalized slush fund," Jossey said.

Feingold’s campaign did not return a request for comment by press time.