Feingold, for instance, was a regular critic of honorariums, fees paid by special interests in exchange for speeches to the group’s members.
The Middleton Democrat praised the 1989 ban on speaking fees for federal employees, including members of Congress. And when officials weighed a 2000 measure that would have allowed federal judges to give paid talks, he led the charge against it.
“It is increasingly difficult to find areas of public life that have not been invaded by private interests with deep pockets and policy agendas,” Feingold wrote for the Chicago Tribune. “And that’s why it is more important than ever that we maintain the ban on judicial honoraria.”
But Feingold didn’t hesitate to trade in on his time as a D.C. lawmaker by taking such fees as soon as he could.
From February 2012 to June 2013 — a window during which he was out of public office — Feingold collected $103,117 to make appearances on or give speeches to universities, think tanks and a liberal TV talk show, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” according to federal filings.
“Senator Russ Feingold is the embodiment of a Washington hypocrite — and he abandoned his platform the moment he was no longer in office,” said Chris Martin, communications director for the state Republican Party.
Feingold was bounced from office in 2011 by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican whom Feingold is challenging next year in an attempt to win back his old seat. The former senator then took a job with the U.S. State Department in mid-2013.
A Feingold spokesman said last week that the criticism is unfounded.
Tom Russell, campaign manager for Feingold, said his boss opposed honorariums because he was concerned about the influence of corporate interests on public officials during their “active service.” Feingold apparently has no qualms about private citizens giving paid speeches, even if they later ran for public office.
“As a member of Congress and as a special envoy at the State Department, Russ did not accept honoraria — and would not if elected,” Russell said via email.
That’s because he could not as a federal lawmaker.
Beyond that, Feingold officials emphasized that he could have really cashed in had he wanted to when he left Washington.
More than 400 members of the U.S. Congress from 2009-’13 went on to become lobbyists or work for lobbying firms. Feingold did neither.
Also, Feingold was not getting paid during his time out of office for speaking gigs at retreats for corporate CEOs. Instead, he focused on giving lectures primarily to college students interested in public service.
His personal financial disclosure report filed with the State Department shows that he gave a total of 28 speeches in 13 states and D.C.
Of those speeches, half were given at colleges and universities, with his biggest payday being a $12,000 honorarium from Arizona State University in October 2012. But Feingold also was paid to share his thoughts and ideas with liberal groups — such as the Alliance for Justice and the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment — law groups, a synagogue and a Chicago humanities festival.
Russell said Feingold would not be influenced by any groups to whom he gave paid talks.
“Russ has and will always vote in the U.S. Senate based on what’s best for Wisconsin and he’ll continue fighting to keep corporate influence out of our government,” Russell said.
But Republicans contend Feingold is not just some other private citizen.
They maintain that he has known for years that he would challenge Johnson in hopes of returning to public office.
“If Senator Feingold was serious about protecting the integrity of public officials, he would have held himself to the same standards while plotting his next campaign,” said Martin, the state GOP staffer.
In addition, Betsy Ankney, campaign manager for Johnson, said Feingold is once again saying one thing but doing another.
Last week, for example, the National Journal disclosed that Feingold was no longer keeping his pledge, dating back to 1992, to raise the majority of his money from Wisconsinites. Feingold said he had to abandon the pledge because of recent court rulings affecting money in politics.
In addition, the Journal Sentinel reported that Feingold — long a champion of campaign finance reform — ran a political action committee that gave little to liberal candidates. Instead, it poured most of its money into fundraising, administrative costs and salaries and fees for former Feingold staffers.
“And now, after railing against speaking fees, Senator Feingold has been taking thousands of dollars for speaking at charitable institutions and out of state univer sities?” Ankney asked. “This is getting ridiculous.”