Feingold Has Accepted More Than $260K in Bundled Lobbyist Contributions

Previously led the effort for stricter lobbyist disclosure rules

Russ Feingold / AP
February 16, 2016

Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold, who previously fought for stricter lobbyist disclosure rules, has now accepted more than $260,000 in bundled lobbyist contributions for the 2016 election cycle, according to campaign finance filings.

Feingold, who is attempting to regain the seat he lost to Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in 2010, took in a total of $137,322.95 in bundled lobbyist contributions between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015, FEC documents show.

The latest round of bundled lobbyist donations pouring into Feingold’s campaign include $18,700.50 from the Council for a Livable World, $33,796.12 from the controversial J Street PAC, and $84,826.33 from the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, all of which are based out of Washington, D.C. These contributions bring Feingold’s grand total in bundled lobbyist donations to $267,318.95 this election cycle.

Lobbyists from the J Street PAC, who were the first to bundle donations on behalf of Feingold’s campaign this cycle, have now given $154,316.62 to his campaign.

The liberal group, which describes itself as "pro-Israel" and "pro-peace," has come under heavy scrutiny in the past from supporters of Israel due to its associations and support for the Iran nuclear deal.

Feingold is one of only six Senate candidates the PAC has endorsed this cycle. It has additionally listed Johnson as a "top target" for 2016 because of his strong opposition to the nuclear deal. The group did not return a request for comment by press time.

Accepting bundled lobbyist contributions would appear to run counter to Feingold’s statements during his 18-year stint in Congress, where he positioned himself at the forefront of campaign finance reform efforts.

Feingold devoted his time in Washington to criticizing the influence of money in politics. He, along with then-Sen. Barack Obama, pushed for stricter ethics legislation in 2007 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 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."

Feingold said that politicians should be more concerned with representing the interests of their constituents than the interests of well-connected 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," Feingold said in August 2007. "Ethical conduct in government should be more than an aspiration. It should be a requirement."

Feingold held a fundraiser at D.C.’s 201 Bar last November, a venue that he previously said is used by lobbyists to buy influence from politicians through bundled lobbyist contributions.

"This is obviously part of the issue. It’s not that lobbyists themselves give huge campaign contributions it’s that they become conduits for collecting large contributions," Feingold said of lobbyist bundling activities during a panel in 2012.

"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 said.

Feingold attended a fundraiser for his campaign held at 201 Bar’s Executive Lounge on Nov. 17, 2015 despite singling it out as a location where lobbyists buy influence. Earlier that same day, Feingold attended a fundraiser on the lobbyist-lined K Street.

Brian Reisinger, a spokesman for Johnson’s campaign, told the Washington Free Beacon that the bundled lobbyist contributions are yet another example of Feingold doing anything to get back to Washington.

"After 18 years in Washington, Senator Feingold has become everything people hate about politics," said Reisinger. "Taking money from lobbyist bundlers after supposedly building his career on limiting the influence of lobbyists is just one more example of Senator Feingold being willing to do anything to claw his way back to power."

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