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Captain Campaign Finance Reform, Russ Feingold, changes ‘dark money’ tune

By   /   June 9, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 17 of 47 in the series Tomah VA Scandal

MADISON, Wis. – When the left-wing Center for Media & Democracy, a “dark money” scold, was found to have profited by anonymous donors, CMD’s executive director Lisa Graves summed up the hypocrisy of the left: She insisted liberal dark money is different than conservative dark money.

Her group’s good friend Russ Feingold apparently feels the same way.

The Middleton liberal, who desperately wants to win back the seat he lost to conservative Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, in 2010, has made a 180-degree turn on his principles in his pursuit of power.

The godfather of campaign finance reform and previous eschewer of so-called dark money groups is now palling around with the League of Conservation Voters and other liberal organizations that do not disclose their funding sources.

Last month, Feingold held a rally with the League, an environmental activist group that has used its powerful dark money arm  to pay for attack ads against Johnson.

AP file photo

RUNNING WITH THE PAC: Russ Feingold used to say pursuing so-called dark money was “dancing with the devil.” Today, not so much.

As the Center for Public Integrity noted in 2013, the League is “fast becoming one of the nation’s strongest ‘dark money’ forces.”

The group spent a record $36 million in 2012, and about $15 million – more than 40 percent – came in the form of “direct and indirect political campaign activities,” according to the Center.

But while Feingold stands with the League of Conservation Voters this campaign year, it would seem to be the kind of group the liberal politician has vehemently criticized in days long past. In 2011, Feingold said, “Democrats shouldn’t be in the game of influencing elections with anonymous, unlimited money. It’s dancing with the devil.”

The rules, at least for Captain Campaign Finance Reform, have changed.

Feingold has abandoned his long-standing pledge not to take piles of money from out-of-state donors. At last check, the candidate had raked in some 70 percent of his campaign cash from contributors outside Wisconsin.

At the same time, Feingold has attacked Johnson for not signing his so-called “Badger Pledge” in which the campaigns would bar super political action committees from the race.

But there’s a lot of special-interest money supporting each side in this critical Senate contest.

Feingold, as of last month, had effectively condoned at least $2 million in issue advocacy by six separate left-wing groups with dark money ties, according to spending records.

Of those groups, all of them have either run ads in Wisconsin without disclosing donors or have affiliated dark money arms.

The Environmental Defense Action Fund has spent more than $1.6 million on ads attacking Johnson. It has a PAC, which discloses its donors, and a 501(c)(4), which does not. The group leaned on its dark money arm to pick up the tab.

VoteVets.Org, also a 501(c)(4), has run ads accusing Johnson of ignoring whistleblower warnings at the scandal-plagued Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The group attempted to counter ads by a conservative issue advocacy group that hammered Feingold for failing to do anything with memos marked “hand-delivered” to his office detailing the problems at Tomah.

VoteVets does not disclose its donors, but IRS filings show it is substantially funded by far-left environmental groups.

The VoteVets Action Fund boasts that it has run “over 51 commercials and radio spots in 32 states advocating the support of our friends,” and “Aired over $22 million in television and radio ads, advocating re-election for allies and urging defeat of those who do not support troops and veterans.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America also paid for ads hitting Johnson. Its dark money wing paid for the ads, although it also runs a political action committee that discloses its funding sources.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund was involved in the attack ad. The group, too, operates a PAC and a 501(C)(4). It’s not clear which entity financed the ad.

Hillary Clinton front group American Bridge 21st Century also has spent money on issue ads in the race. The group is not a dark money organization, but is affiliated with American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, which does not disclose its donors.

It’s important to point out that there is nothing illegal about educational organizations not disclosing the names of their donors. They have every right to keep such information private.

But the left and its leading spokesman on the issue, Feingold, have campaigned heavily on the dark money narrative – and they have benefited handsomely from the same kind of advocacy cash while denigrating conservatives for doing the same.

Feingold’s campaign has not returned multiple requests seeking comment.

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.