Feingold Passes $500,000 in Bundled Lobbyist Contributions

Former senator was one-time champion of campaign finance reform

Russ Feingold
Russ Feingold / AP
August 2, 2016

Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin who is attempting to regain the seat he lost in 2010, has now collected more than a half million dollars worth of bundled lobbyist contributions despite previously positioning himself on the front lines of campaign finance reform.

Feingold, who spent 18 years in Congress before being defeated by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson six years ago, added $129,883.28 in bundled lobbyist contributions to Russ for Wisconsin, his campaign committee, from April 1 to June 30. Between July 1 and July 20, which is marked as "pre-primary" filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), his campaign committee saw an additional $20,846 pour in from lobbyists.

The latest contributions going into to Feingold’s campaign committee have come from registered lobbyists at just three far-left D.C.-based groups.

The J Street PAC, a liberal Middle East advocacy group that is critical of the Jewish state despite billing itself as a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" organization, collected $67,398.01 for the former senator’s comeback attempt since April, according to FEC filings.

The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, an environmental advocacy group, added $64,436.27 while lobbyists from the Council for a Livable World, which seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons in the United States, gave $18,895.

Prior to these donations, Feingold received $390,301 from special interest groups. He has now accepted $541,030.28 in bundled lobbyist contributions to date.

Feingold taking more than a half-million dollars from special interest groups is at odds with his former rhetoric throughout his entire political career.

When Feingold was serving as a state senator in Wisconsin in 1992, one colleague said that Feingold would not even accept a cup of coffee from a lobbyist.

Feingold later led the charge on campaign finance reform in the U.S. Senate by pushing for stricter ethics legislation that included a requirement for politicians 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."

As Congress backed the stricter disclosures, Feingold said that Congress should put the interests of their constituents before lobbyist 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. "Ethical conduct in government should be more than an aspiration. It should be a requirement."

Feingold’s goal to slow the revolving door between congressional offices and the lobbying sector did not entirely extend to his own office. Sixteen of his staffers eventually made the leap into lobbying.

Feingold has also held fundraisers this election cycle at venues he said are used for lobbyists to buy influence.

"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 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 held a fundraiser at 201 Bar’s Executive Lounge last November.

This election cycle is not the first time that Feingold has taken bundled contributions from lobbyists. He accepted more than $200,000 from lobbyists in 2010.

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