Details on Senator Feingold’s slush fund scandal continue to emerge — and with it proof that he’ll do anything to get back to power in Washington D.C.
Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold set a specific goal when he set up Progressives United PAC shortly after losing his seat to Republican challenger Ron Johnson in 2010.
Feingold, a Democrat, said he wanted the political action committee “to support candidates that will stand up to corporate influence and oppose those who blindly push the agenda of their corporate backers.”
Now the question is this: Has Feingold proved to be the primary beneficiary of that work by Progressives United PAC and its nonprofit arm, Progressives United Inc.?
It certainly appears so — whether that was the intent or not.
In important ways, Feingold’s campaign against Johnson has picked up on the successes of Progressives United Inc. and PAC, which spent a combined $10 million since 2011.
Feingold’s fundraising has far outpaced Johnson’s, and his campaign has experienced only the rare hiccup in the last 11 months. Feingold has led Johnson in every poll since the race began, with the most recent one showing him up 10 percentage points.
Consider these connections between his current campaign and Progressives United:
- Eight of his campaign aides came from Progressives United Inc. or PAC, including four who drew income from both. Feingold also was paid to serve as president of his Progressives United Inc. for a stint.
- Feingold’s campaign is relying on the same direct mail, telemarketing and online firms that were used by the two Progressives United entities.
Feingold’s campaign acknowledged that it bought Progressives United’s mailing list to hit up past donors of that group. The campaign, in fact, bought such lists from dozens of organizations.
Records show the Feingold campaign has seen an uptick every quarter in the number of donors who also gave to Progressives United in 2014. Overall, by Feingold’s account, those 93 individuals have given $288,476 to his campaign over the past year.
Of course, federal candidates aren’t required to list the names of people who give less than $200, and Feingold has bragged about his strong backing from small-dollar donors. Also, this analysis looks only at those who gave to Progressives United PAC in 2014, not in previous years.
Of the 93 people who gave to Feingold’s campaign and Progressives United, all but three have given to other liberal causes, with some of them donating to multiple groups.
For instance, just since 2010, liberal Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein has donated nearly $2.5 million to federal candidates and PACs. Former Wisconsin Energy Chairman Richard Abdoo has given nearly $400,000 to a wide range of liberal groups and candidates since 2004.
But Reisinger, the Johnson spokesman, dismissed those numbers, saying it was hypocritical for Feingold to benefit at all from Progressives United entities.
“Senator Feingold still doesn’t get it — there’s no such thing as being just a little bit hypocritical,” Reisinger said. “These donors are only the beginning of his efforts to tap the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of ultraliberal activists.”
How does a guy out of elective politics for nearly six years suddenly start pulling down $3 million-plus in fund raising? Well, if you’re Russ Feingold, you set up a slush fund to act as your campaign-in-waiting.
Then, once you’ve announced you’re ready to retake your old U.S. Senate seat, you turn the start key and change the nameplates on the door. We wrote as such back in early 2015 when Feingold’s “Progressives United PAC” shut down.
While none of this is illegal, it raises a number of questions related to what the purpose of Progressives United actually was. If you listen to the spin from the Feingold campaign, they tell you a tale of helping candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Tammy Baldwin. Yet, a thorough look at the financials of the PAC show that only a mere 5 percent went to candidates with the rest going to overhead costs.
That’s worse numbers than most so-called “ScamPACs.”