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What would Russ Feingold’s 1992 self say to the 2015 version?

By   /   February 18, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 12 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

Madison, Wis. – Take a trip in a time machine, back to the magical land of 1992.

Mafia crime boss John Gotti and the “Long Island Lolita” were on their way to prison, Prince Charles and Princess Diana were splitting up, and Johnny Carson was saying “goodnight.”

Smokers got their first test of the Nicotine patch, Euro Disney debuted, and the Northlands’ monument to consumerism – Minnesota’s Mall of America – opened.

“Melrose Place” was near the top of the TV ratings, on pop radio, Sir Mix A-Lot let us know that “Baby Got Back,” and, for reasons not entirely clear, young people began wearing their clothes backward.

And in 1992, first-time U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold, the “underdog” state senator from Middleton, Wis., was making quaint campaign commercials – documentary style.

Photo from Feingold campaign ad on Youtube

TURN AND FACE THE STRAIN: A young Russ Feingold in 1992 making big pledges about campaign finance. Times have changed, and so have Feingold’s pledges.

Feingold made some big promises back then, like, “I will rely on Wisconsin citizens, not out-of-staters for this campaign.” He even wrote it on the garage door of his “middle-class” Middleton home.

Like Feingold’s promises, times have changed.

Twenty-four years later, Feingold is running again for the U.S. Senate seat he held until 2010, when Republican businessman Ron Johnson beat the old “underdog.”

And those old pledges from the guy whose name is on the sweeping overhaul of campaign finance reform are no longer in play.

As Politifact and many others have pointed out, six weeks after the former senator kicked off his campaign in May 2015, he had $2.3 million in his war chest.

National Journal in August reported that the majority of Feingold’s campaign cash had come from out-of-state contributors.

Why the change? Feingold said the rules had changed and he had to change with them, even as he continued to campaign against all of that icky money in politics.

“Every single election is different based on the reality of the campaign finance law at the time,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in August. “What I did in the past is to offer a pledge or a series of proposals for a six-year term.”

What he did in 2010, when he ran against Johnson the first time in a bid for a fourth term, was tell the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the big money outside spenders, not to spend money in Wisconsin. He once told the group to “get the hell out” of his state.

Today, Feingold is rolling out the welcome mat for the DSCC, accepting endorsements, fundraising support – and money.

Democrats counter that Johnson has refused to sign Feingold’s so-called “Badger Pledge” that would keep super PACs out of the race, even as Feingold’s own Progressives United PAC has been under fire for its fundraising and spending, dubbed a political “slush fund” by critics.

RELATED: Russ Feingold, father of campaign finance reform, having problems with his PAC

Left-leaning groups have hit the airwaves attacking Johnson on everything from the senator’s position on the environment to his office’s handling of complaints at the troubled Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Feingold has remained silent on their involvement.

There are at least six liberal interest groups engaged in the battle to return Feingold to the Senate. The stakes are high. As Feingold’s friends at the DSCC noted in a fundraising appeal, “If we pick up just four seats, we take back the majority. Some really incredible Democrats are already stepping up to run,” the letter states. “In Wisconsin, former Senator Russ Feingold — a strong and steadfast voice for the values we share — is running to return to the Senate in 2016.”

From the WABAC Machine of a bygone time, one of those quaint Feingold campaign ads in 1992 insisted that, “Wisconsin can’t afford anything less than Russ Feingold.”

In a statement, the Republican Party of Wisconsin countered: “Wisconsin cannot afford to send a politician’s politician to Washington, D.C. Feingold has been transformed and epitomizes everything he claimed he stood against.”

Part of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal
  1. After damaging silence, Baldwin now calls for probe of troubled VA center
  2. Legal expert says U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin is in full ‘damage control’
  3. Baldwin aide breaks silence, alleges senator engaged in ‘coverup’
  4. Baldwin’s public relations team kicks into high gear following ethics complaint
  5. Ethics watchdog urges Senate committee to investigate Baldwin
  6. Tammy Baldwin’s political fixer is helping Hillary attack voter ID
  7. Senate committee asking if FBI missed the call in veteran’s death at VA
  8. When lawmakers failed Wisconsin’s veterans
  9. Is political pressure behind Lin Ellinghuysen’s differing accounts on VA memo?
  10. Bernie Sanders failed to act in deadly VA scandal, whistleblower says
  11. Does government union chief’s threat show AFGE’s hand on veterans care?
  12. What would Russ Feingold’s 1992 self say to the 2015 version?
  13. Ad attacking Feingold asserts veterans died because of ‘politicians who looked the other way’
  14. Feingold’s campaign caught up in VA scandal memo war
  15. PolitiFact Wisconsin trusts Russ Feingold to deliver its facts
  16. Sources: Ron Kind received call from Jason Simcakoski not long before Marine’s tragic death
  17. Captain Campaign Finance Reform, Russ Feingold, changes ‘dark money’ tune
  18. Baldwin talks transparency while keeping her secrets in Tomah VA scandal
  19. Ron Kind knew about Tomah VA abuse years before the story broke
  20. Ron Kind now solving Tomah VA scandal one press release at a time
  21. Tammy Baldwin silent on her failures as she blasts Tomah VA medical center
  22. Tomah VA whistleblower says he’s getting pressure from unhappy Dems
  23. Feingold’s facts fail again in face of Tomah scandal
  24. Senate field hearing to shine more light on Tomah VA scandal
  25. Tomah VA supervisor accused of misconduct gets promoted
  26. Senate hearing to look deeper into scandal-plagued Tomah VA hospital
  27. Kind flees questions, Senate committee turns up heat on Tomah VA hospital scandal
  28. Report: Tomah VA hospital story is one of ‘systemic failures’
  29. Tomah VA hospital whistleblower: ‘It will not change’
  30. Ron Kind breaks silence on call from veteran victim at Tomah VA hospital
  31. VA union holds rally to save itself, Tomah whistleblower says
  32. Sound familiar? Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth accused of retaliation at VA
  33. Emails say Tomah VA patient reached out to Feingold, Kind, in 2008 about abuse
  34. Johnson: Hold accountable those who put Tomah veterans at risk of HIV, hepatitis
  35. Veteran jumps out of third-floor window at Tomah VA hospital
  36. Tomah VA employee: ‘We have forgotten who we work for’
  37. Congressional committees want answers on Tomah VA hospital
  38. Senators ask Pence, Trump transition team, to hold troubled VA accountable
  39. Veterans advocate: VA hospitals’ ‘improvement’ doesn’t tell whole story
  40. Tomah VA Medical Center’s ‘Candy Man’ stripped of license
  41. Opinions differ on whether it’s ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ at Tomah VA
  42. Latest data show Tomah VA hospital improving in opioid prescriptions, veteran satisfaction
  43. VA secretary nominee faces little resistance, lots of challenges
  44. Insiders: Tomah VA troubles continue with nurse shortage, neglectful care
  45. VA whistleblower has questions for Congressman Ron Kind
  46. Johnson brings back whistleblower protection bill as Sunshine Week opens
  47. Iraq war veteran burned by ‘very frustrating process’ at VA


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.