Senator Feingold compared his taxpayer-funded career as a politician to Wisconsinites who actually create jobs.
There’s no doubt Russ Feingold is a politician.
Feingold, a Middleton Democrat, has been in or running for political office the better part of 35 years.
Still, this liberal politician has described himself as an entrepreneur.
The former U.S. senator who desperately would like to be U.S. senator again once insisted that being a politician is like being a businessperson.
In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal in late October 2004, just before Feingold won his third six-year term in the Senate, he told reporter Patricia Simms that politics is business. Why, he had to hire and fire employees on his campaign and in his political offices. He said it took years to build his business – his political organization.
“I made all this myself,” Feingold said in the interview, eight years before President Obama would pooh-pooh the notion of the self-made entrepreneur in his 2012 campaign line, “If you got a business, you didn’t build that.”
“I walked out of my door one day in Middleton in 1982, and nobody knew who I was, and I built a career that I think was a good one … I had to do the kind of things that entrepreneurs do,” Feingold said.
Twelve years after Feingold declared himself businessperson-like, the perpetual politician has been oft-criticized by his opponent, incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson, for a lack of real-world business experience and understanding.
Johnson, who spent most of his professional life building a family plastics fabrication business, likes to compare his entrepreneurial resume to Feingold’s.
The Republican incumbent’s first campaign ad of his re-election bid, launched in early, June focused on his manufacturing career. It never mentioned Johnson is a U.S. senator or that he has been in that position since beating Feingold in 2010.
“Career politicians manufacture hogwash. I manufacture plastic, and I respect you enough to tell you the truth,” the Republican says in the ad. In it, Johnson walks through a factory, between rows of products on plastics, at times wearing safety glasses and talking to plant workers.
Of course, Feingold hasn’t been working in manufacturing the last six years, either. Or ever.
Political insiders will tell you he’s spent a lot of that time dreaming of taking back the seat he held for 18 years before Johnson rudely interrupted.
Feingold didn’t run a business, but he launched a PAC. It was later discovered that much of that PAC’s money went to the PAC and not to the candidates and campaigns it pledged to support. He wrote a book, supported Obama’s re-election campaign, served as U.S. special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and taught college kids as a visiting professor at Marquette University Law School, Lawrence University and Stanford Law School. The later were fitting positions for a guy who worked as an attorney at private law firms for some six years in the early-to- mid-1980s. During that time, he served as a Wisconsin state senator up until his successful bid for U.S. Senate in 1992.
Johnson, meanwhile, moved to Oshkosh in 1979 to help his brother-in-law get PACUR off the ground. The company produces plastic sheet for packaging and printing applications. The senator insists he did it all, from operating equipment to keeping the company books to selling products – all the way up to CEO of the growing company.
“Unlike Senator Feingold, Ron Johnson spent years creating jobs that lift working families up and benefit local communities,” said Pat Garrett, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “Feingold’s record in the Senate has been marked by tax increases, bigger government, and policies that hurt local Wisconsin businesses and the people they employ. Feingold has become a self-interested politician, and his time has come and gone.”
The candidates have fared differently in business association ratings over their tenures in the Senate.
Feingold had a 25 percent career rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, meaning he supported pro-business, pro-growth policies in the chamber’s estimation only a quarter of the time. The chamber rated Johnson 100 percent in 2015, and quickly endorsed the incumbent in his re-election bid.
“We’re honored to be in Wisconsin and stand with the state and local business community to highlight his record,” Rob Engstrom, national political director for the U.S. Chamber, said during a swing through Green Bay and Wausau in March. “Senator Feingold, on the other hand, is a career politician who has spent almost 30 years championing a ‘government knows best’ approach that stifles the American economy.”
The National Association of Manufacturers consistently rated Feingold’s voting record on manufacturing policies between 8 percent and 15 percent.
NAM gave Johnson a 100 percent rating in 2015, but 50 percent in 2013-14.
The National Federation of Independent Business routinely gave Feingold low ratings, including 31 percent in 2009 – the lowest of all senators that year.
Johnson received a 100 percent rating from the NFIB in 2015-16.
Feingold doesn’t seem impressed with such ratings from such groups.
The liberal has been long criticized by fiscal conservatives for his Senate voting record, marked by his support of more than 270 tax increases during his 18-year tenure in the Senate. His political career is replete with votes that expanded the size and scope of government.
His friends from long ago knew Feingold “lusted for politics.”
“It was clear. Russ always wanted to be in politics, and he wanted to be president.” Barb Block Paterick, a former Craig High cheerleader who married one of Feingold’s best friends, told the Wisconsin State Journal in the 2004 profile piece.