Feingold Cozying Up to Dark Money Groups Despite Past Criticism

Feingold in 2011: ‘Democrats shouldn’t be in the game of influencing elections with anonymous, unlimited money. It’s dancing with the devil’

Russ Feingold / AP
May 31, 2016

Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin who is running again in an attempt to win back his old seat, is positioning himself closer to dark money groups despite his previous disdain towards such entities.

Feingold, who had previously spent 18 years in Washington, recently attended a rally with the D.C.-based League of Conservation Voters, a far-left environmental group that "works to turn environmental values into national, state, and local priorities."

The group began running some of the earliest ads in the Wisconsin senate race hitting Sen. Ron Johnson, who defeated Feingold in 2010. The first ad, titled "7000 Wisconsin" attempted to hit Johnson for his ties to "big oil." The second ad—called "Disappear Wisconsin"—tried to paint the senator as indifferent to carbon pollution while pushing for President Obama’s Clean Coal Power plan.

Nearly $100,000 was spent to run the two television ads throughout the state. The League of Conservation Voters, which contains a dark-money arm, is not disclosing the source of who is funding their advertisements against Johnson.

Feingold said in 2011 that any Democrats who use anonymous sources with unlimited money, such at the League’s dark money arm, are "dancing with the devil."

"Democrats shouldn’t be in the game of influencing elections with anonymous, unlimited money. It’s dancing with the devil," he said at the time.

In addition to now allowing help from dark money groups, Feingold has also received hundreds of thousands in bundled lobbyist contributions.

Feingold has taken in almost $400,000 in bundled lobbyist contributions from a handful of far-left organizations including the League of Conservation Voters and the J Street PAC, a group many supporters of Israel say is opposed to Israel’s best interests.

These actions appear to run counter to the former senator’s beliefs as he vehemently opposed lobbyist cash during his 18-year span in Washington.

While in the Senate, Feingold positioned himself of the front lines of campaign finance reform and fought for stricter ethics legislation that included a requirement to disclose bundled lobbyist 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 2007. "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."

Feingold also broke his long-held "Garage Door Pledge" this cycle that included a promise of relying on Wisconsin citizens for a majority of his campaign money. "I’m promising it for the future … I’m saying that’s a pledge I am going to keep," he said at a Democratic primary debate in 1992.

This election, 70 percent of his itemized individual contributions are coming from outside of the state.

"Senator Feingold continues to say one thing and do another. After repeatedly railing against ‘dark money’ he’s gladly showing his face with a group whose dark money arm is fueling his bid to claw his way back to Washington," Johnson campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said. "Senator Feingold apparently doesn’t care that this Washington, D.C., group’s job-killing agenda would hurt Wisconsin farmers and families—he’s only concerned about his own political ambition."

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