Politics

Feingold Under Fire In Wisconsin Senate Race Over PAC Expenditures

Progressives United PAC pads staff salaries; spends little on candidates

Russ Feingold
Russ Feingold / AP

Critics of former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold’s (Wisc.) political action committee say the organization does little in the way of financially supporting fellow Democrats and exists solely to pad the salaries of those who work for the PAC.

Progressives United PAC, the PAC created by Feingold in 2011 after being defeated by current Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, has contributed a meager five percent of its expenditures to Democrats running for office since its founding. Its stated mission is to give "progressives a voice in our elections, and to support candidates that will stand up to corporate influence and oppose those who blindly push the agenda of their corporate backers."

The PAC has pumped an overwhelming majority of its money into fundraising, salaries, and administrative purposes while giving little in contributions during election years.

Progressives United PAC spent a total of $2.1 million on fundraising purposes in 2012 while $822,000 went toward administrative costs and $794,288 was used to pay salaries. The PAC spent only $293,000 in support of Democratic candidates.

The PAC put a good chunk of its expenditures into overhead costs yet again in 2014: $1.2 million went to fundraising, $543,000 to administrative tasks, and $527,000 to salaries. Throughout the 2014 election cycle, just over $40,000 was given to candidates.

Many of the people associated with the PAC and his nonprofit, Progressives United, are former employees of Feingold’s.

Mary Irvine, for example, was Feingold’s chief of staff from 1994 until 2011 in his Washington, D.C., Senate office. Irvine pulled in $317,823 from Feb. 2011 until July 2013 from the PAC and his nonprofit. Feingold’s campaign comptroller, Cole Leystra, earned $291,112 from the PAC and nonprofit. Christopher Louderback, another campaign staffer, brought in $164,389 from the PAC and his nonprofit.

Former staff members who worked for Feingold in one capacity or another received more than $1.7 million in payments from the PAC.

The expenditures have led to increased scrutiny of the former senator as he attempts to unseat Johnson in the 2016 elections.

"This kind of hypocrisy is going to disappoint a lot of Wisconsinites—and it should," Sen. Johnson told CQ Roll Call. "Sen. Feingold has become just like every other career politician in Washington, saying one thing while doing another."

A spokesman for America Rising said Feingold’s PAC was nothing but a "cushy gig" as he planned his next political move.

"Presumably donors to Senator Feingold’s slush fund—ahem, PAC—didn’t expect to be funding millions in salaries and expenses for his cadre of political operatives," America Rising press secretary Amelia Chassé told the Washington Free Beacon in an email statement.

"Senator Feingold was knocked off of his high horse on campaign finance long ago, but creating a PAC that did basically nothing other than serve as a cushy gig for his handlers while he plotted his next political move is especially egregious," she continued. "This is yet another example of Senator Feingold representing everything that's wrong with Washington insiders like him."

Feingold’s campaign did not return a request for comment from the Free Beacon on the PAC’s spending habits.