The J Street PAC has pumped more than $100,000 in bundled lobbyist contributions into the Wisconsin Senate campaign of Democratic candidate Russ Feingold.
Feingold, the former senator from Wisconsin who lost his seat nearly five years ago, is hoping to recapture his spot in Congress in the 2016 elections. During his 18-year stint in Washington, which lasted from 1992 until 2010, he positioned himself as a champion of campaign finance reform, blasting lobbyist contributions.
The first of the bundled donations from the group appeared in a July lobbyist disclosure report, which covers contributions made between Jan. 1 and June 30 and amounted to $35,453 given to Russ for Wisconsin.
According to recent October quarterly filings, an additional $85,067.50 was given to Feingold’s campaign July 1 through Sept. 30, totaling $120,520.53 between January and late September from the group.
Accepting bundled lobbyist contributions appears to run counter to Feingold’s rhetoric when he served in Congress. The former senator’s anti-lobbyist views date back to his early political days in the Wisconsin state senate when, according to a colleague who served alongside him, he wouldn’t even accept a cup of coffee from a lobbyist.
Feingold also led the charge for stricter ethics legislation while serving in the U.S. Senate that included a requirement to disclose lobbyist bundlers.
As Congress backed the stricter rules on lobbying, Feingold said that politicians should be more concerned with putting the interests of their constituents before those of 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.”
A spokesman for Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R., Wis.) campaign told the Washington Free Beacon that Feingold accepting money from a lobbyist bundler is another example of the former senator doing anything to make his way back into Congress.
“This is fitting news on the week, 24 years ago, that Senator Feingold first announced he was running for U.S. Senate,” said Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger. “Taking money from a lobbyist bundler 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 Washington.”
A spokesman from the Republican National Committee added that it should not come as a surprise that Feingold is being backed by special interests despite railing against such actions previously.
“It should come as no surprise that Russ Feingold’s campaign is financed by the big money special interest groups he railed against in the Senate,” RNC spokesman Fred Brown told the Free Beacon. “Whether it’s using his PAC as a personal slush fund, or raking in cash from Hollywood liberals despite past pledges to only raise money from Wisconsinites, it’s pretty clear Russ Feingold believes you should do as he says, and ignore what he does.”
The group that bundled the hefty lobbyist contributions to Feingold’s campaign is a controversial one.
Leading up to a J Street conference in 2009, the group was forced to cancel a poetry session after it was discovered that one of the scheduled participants compared Guantanamo Bay to Auschwitz while another slated participant likened Israel to a “whore.”
The backlash included a refusal from Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, to speak at the conference, while an Israeli embassy spokesman added that J Street could “impair Israel’s interests.” Thirteen senators and congressmen ultimately removed their names from the event’s host committee.
The self-proclaimed “pro-Israel” group was also one of the biggest backers of President Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal, dumping millions into a public relations blitz this past July.
Feingold is one of only three Senate candidates the J Street PAC has endorsed to date this election cycle. His campaign did not return a request for comment.