Russ Feingold, the anti-lobbyist former Democratic senator from Wisconsin who is running again in hopes of recapturing the seat, held a fundraiser at a Washington, D.C., bar this week that he previously said serves as a venue where lobbyists buy influence from politicians through bundled contributions.
The fundraiser took place Tuesday night at 201 Bar’s Executive Lounge located just a short walking distance from the Capitol. The dimly lit basement-level bar was reserved by the Russ for Wisconsin campaign.
During a panel at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2012, the former 18-year senator singled out the exact location of Tuesday’s fundraiser as a venue where lobbyists buy influence and lawmakers circumvent rules when asked by an audience member to comment on the amount of money lobbyists donate to individuals and political campaigns.
"This is obviously part of the issue. It’s not that lobbyist themselves give huge campaign contributions it’s that they become conduits for collecting large contributions," Feingold said. "So in Washington typically a member of the House or Senate will be having, quote, a ‘fundraiser’, and the lobbyist will bring in a few people and a bunch of checks, and this, you know, this is the same lobbyist who is arranging to have meetings to talk to this guy about policy in his office the next day—hopefully they’re not doing the same thing in the office because that’s illegal—but I mean, it’s across the street. You know, at the 201 Club or the Monocle."
Feingold also attended an ActBlue fundraiser earlier that day on the lobbyist-lined K Street along with other Democratic Senate hopefuls including Ohio’s Ted Strickland and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto.
Feingold had a staunchly anti-lobbyist reputation while positioning himself on the front lines of campaign finance reform. Fellow colleagues during his early days in the Wisconsin senate said he would not even accept a cup of coffee from a lobbyist. "He has not let himself get sucked into a lot of special interest, insider kind of deals," said one former colleague from Wisconsin in 1992.
While Feingold served in the U.S. Senate, he regularly knocked lobbyist activities, including bundled contributions from lobbyists and fought for stricter rules for disclosure of such donations stating politicians should focus on issues important to their constituents and not those of well-connected special interest groups.
"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 while in the U.S. Senate. "Ethical conduct in government should be more than an aspiration. It should be a requirement."
As recently as last week, an aide for the Wisconsin Democratic party told Roll Call that Feingold does not accept contributions from federally registered lobbyists.
However, Feingold has accepted over $100,000 worth of bundled lobbyist contributions to date this election cycle. He also quietly accepted $200,000 worth of bundled lobbyists contributions in the final months leading up to his defeat in 2010 to by Ron Johnson.
Feingold’s campaign did not return a request for comment.