After abandoning his pledge to raise the majority of his money in the state of Wisconsin, Senator Feingold now “rakes in national money” from places like California and New York.
In his campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, Feingold, D-Middleton, has leveraged his national stature to become the top fundraiser among all Senate candidates challenging an incumbent.
That fundraising bounty has a flip-side, Feingold’s opponents say: the abandonment of his former pledge to collect most of his campaign money from Wisconsinites.
Feingold signaled last year that he would not renew the pledge, and as 2015 wound to a close, his share of out-of-state fundraising increased. In the fourth quarter, nearly three-fourths of the itemized individual contributions to Feingold’s campaign were from outside Wisconsin.
For a typical candidate, the issue of in-state campaign funding might be marginal, said Mark Graul, a state Republican strategist not affiliated with the Johnson campaign.
But Graul insists that for Feingold, who cultivated an image as a straight arrow who’s unmoored to outside interests, it could be more problematic.
“It’s a double-edged sword in a way that it isn’t for most other candidates,” Graul said. “He really built his image in Wisconsin, over many years, as someone who really was different.
“What we’re seeing now, in his attempt to get his old Senate seat back, is sort of throwing the old Russ Feingold stuff out the window.”
The Johnson campaign notes Feingold has collected nearly as much from the liberal bastions of California and New York as he has from Wisconsin. That includes itemized contributions, or those from individuals who give $200 or more to a candidate in a single cycle.
Feingold first made the in-state donor pledge in his initial Senate bid in 1992 and followed in his three subsequent campaigns.
Last year, when Feingold acknowledged he would not adhere to the pledge in this campaign, he said it never was meant to be permanent. The pledge no longer makes sense, Feingold argued, after Citizens United and other court rulings unleashed an era of rampant outside spending in politics.
But Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger said Feingold’s about-face shows he has jettisoned the principles that once guided him.
“Wisconsinites no longer recognize the man who made a promise ‘for the future’ on his garage door 25 years ago, but elite liberals in California and Massachusetts know him well,” Reisinger said.