Russ Feingold

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The Honorable
Russ Feingold
Russ Feingold official photo 2.jpg
United States Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes and the Congo-Kinshasa
In office
July 18, 2013 – March 6, 2015
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Barrie Walkley
Succeeded by Tom Perriello
United States Senator
from Wisconsin
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2011
Preceded by Bob Kasten
Succeeded by Ron Johnson
Member of the Wisconsin Senate
from the 27th district
In office
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1993
Preceded by Everett Bidwell
Succeeded by Joseph Wineke
Personal details
Born Russell Dana Feingold
(1953-03-02) March 2, 1953 (age 62)
Janesville, Wisconsin, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sue Levine (1977–1986)
Mary Speerschneider (1991–2005)
Christine Ferdinand (m. 2013)
Residence Middleton, Wisconsin, U.S.
Alma mater University of Wisconsin
Magdalen College, Oxford
Harvard Law School
Religion Judaism
Website Campaign website

Russell Dana "Russ" Feingold (/ˈfn.ɡld/; born March 2, 1953) is a lawyer and politician from the U.S. state of Wisconsin. He is a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2016, and previously served as a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate from January 3, 1993 to January 3, 2011.[1] From 1983 to 1993, Feingold was a Wisconsin State Senator representing the 27th District.[2]

With John McCain, he received the 1999 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.[3] Feingold and McCain cosponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain–Feingold Act), a major piece of campaign finance reform legislation. He was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act during the first vote on the legislation.

Feingold had been mentioned as a possible candidate in the 2008 presidential election, but in November 2006 he announced he would not to run.[4] In 2010, Feingold lost his campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate to Republican Ron Johnson.[5][6] On June 18, 2013, he was selected by Secretary of State John Kerry to replace R. Barrie Walkley as a special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa.[7]

On May 14, 2015, he announced his candidacy for his old Senate seat in 2016. If selected as the Democratic nominee, he would, in all likelihood, again face Johnson.[1]

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Feingold was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, to a Jewish family. His grandparents were immigrants from Russia and Galicia.[8] His father, Leon Feingold (1912–1980), was an attorney; his mother, Sylvia Feingold (née Binstock; 1918–2005), worked at a title company. Feingold was one of four children. Feingold's father and older brother, David, a Vietnam War conscientious objector, were the major influences in his political development as a youth.[9] He was also involved with the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization and Aleph Zadik Aleph as a boy.

Feingold signs up as a member of Working America, August 4, 2008.

In 1972, Feingold volunteered for the presidential campaign of New York City mayor John Lindsay. Later he supported the presidential campaigns of Mo Udall and Ted Kennedy.[10]

After graduating from Joseph A. Craig High School, Feingold attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1975, a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He went to Magdalen College at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, where he earned another Bachelor of Arts degree in 1977. Upon returning to the U.S., he attended Harvard Law School, receiving his J.D. with honors in 1979.[2]

Feingold worked as an attorney at the private law firms of Foley & Lardner and La Follette & Sinykin from 1979 until 1985.[11]

Wisconsin Senate[edit]

In 1982, he was elected to the Wisconsin Senate, where he served for ten years until his election to the United States Senate. After he was elected to the United States Senate, Feingold was succeeded in the State Senate by Joseph Wineke.[12]

U.S. Senate[edit]

1992 campaign[edit]

Feingold's senatorial career began in 1992, with a victory over incumbent Republican Senator Bob Kasten. Feingold, who had little name recognition in the state and was campaigning in a primary against Congressman Jim Moody and businessman Joe Checota, adopted several proposals to gain the electorate's attention. Feingold painted a series of five promises on his garage door, calling it a contract with Wisconsin voters.[13] Among Feingold's promises was a pledge to rely on Wisconsin citizens for most of his contributions[14] and a pledge to hold a "Listening Session" in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties each year he was in office.[15][16]

Feingold released an advertisement featuring an Elvis Presley impersonator endorsing his candidacy.[17] Feingold's Republican opponent, Bob Kasten, responded to the Elvis endorsement with an advertisement featuring an Elvis impersonator attacking Feingold's record.[18]

During the primary campaign, Feingold unveiled an 82-point plan that aimed to eliminate the deficit by the end of his first term.[19] The plan, which called for, among other things, a raise in taxes and cuts in the defense budget, was derided as "extremist" by Republicans and "too liberal" by his Democratic opponents. Feingold also announced his support for strict campaign finance reform and a national health care system and voiced his opposition to term limits and new tax cuts.[20]

Feingold won by positioning himself as a quirky underdog who offered voters an alternative to what was seen by many as negative campaigning of opponents Jim Moody and Joe Checota.[21] On primary day, Feingold, whose support had shown in the single digits throughout much of the campaign, won 70 percent of the vote.[20] Seven weeks later, while Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ross Perot split the Wisconsin presidential vote 41%-37%-21%, Feingold beat Kasten by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent.[21]

1998 campaign[edit]

During his 1998 re-election campaign, Feingold was outspent by his Republican opponent, Representative Mark Neumann, and targeted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.[22] Feingold placed a cap on his own fundraising, pledging not to raise or spend more than $3.8 million (one dollar for every citizen of Wisconsin) during the campaign, and turning away Democratic Party soft money.[23] He requested that several lobby groups, including the AFL-CIO and the League of Conservation Voters, refrain from airing pro-Feingold "issue ads."[24] Feingold's Republican opponent, Representative Mark Neumann, also limited himself to $3.8 million in spending, but allowed soft money to be used in his favor by outside groups.[23] Some Democrats were angry at Feingold for "putting his career at risk" with these self-imposed limits.[24] On election day, a strong showing in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Madison allowed Feingold to win by around two percent.[25]

2004 campaign[edit]

In the 2004 Senate election, Feingold defeated the Republican candidate, businesman Tim Michels, by 11 percent (55 percent-44 percent), earning a third term.[26] During the campaign, Feingold refrained from imposing spending caps on himself as he had in the past, and raised and spent almost $11 million. In 2004, Feingold spent nearly $3.7 million, or about 67%, more than his opponent. rated Feingold's frequent assertion that he had been outspent by opponents in every U.S. Senate election "pants on fire."[27]

In late December 2004, Feingold was appointed to be one of four deputy whips for the Senate Democrats.[28]

2010 campaign[edit]

Feingold was defeated for re-election on November 2, 2010, by Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson by a margin of 52% - 47%.[29]

2016 campaign[edit]

On May 14, 2015, Feingold announced his candidacy for a 2016 U.S. Senate run against incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson.[1]

In his 2016 campaign, Feingold said he would no longer operate under his longstanding pledge to raise the majority of his campaign funds from Wisconsin residents. Feingold said the pledge had been made on an election-to-election basis, and it no longer made sense to continue to operate under the pledge.[16][30]

Outside groups financially supporting Feingold's election bid include Planned Parenthood, the League of Conservation Voters, American Bridge 21st Century, and the National Abortion Rights Action League.[31]

Committee assignments[edit]


Feingold with labor leaders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 1, 2008.

During his time in the U.S. Senate, Feingold gained a reputation as a political maverick with an independent streak. When he broke with his own party, it was often because he was taking a more liberal or populist position than other Democrats.[33][34] Throughout his congressional tenure, several ranking systems placed Feingold among the nation's most liberal or progressive senators.[35][36]

Feingold was the only Democratic senator to vote against a motion to dismiss Congress's 1998–1999 impeachment case of President Bill Clinton. Feingold ultimately voted against conviction on all charges.[34]

Feingold opposed NAFTA and numerous other free trade agreements.[34]

In 2001, Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act (H.R. 3162).[37] Also in 2001, Feingold voted for the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft.[38]

On December 21, 2004, Feingold wrote an article for the website Salon regarding his golfing trip to Greenville, Alabama.[39] After noting how friendly the people were, and that Wisconsin had many similar places, he expressed his sorrow that such a poverty-stricken area was "the reddest spot on the whole map," despite Republican policies that Feingold considered incredibly destructive to the lives of the poor and middle class. Alabama Governor Bob Riley and Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon, both Republicans, were perturbed at Feingold's description of "check-cashing stores and abject trailer parks, and some of the hardest-used cars for sale on a very rundown lot." McLendon invited Feingold back for a more complete tour of the city, and Feingold agreed. He visited the city on March 28, 2005, making amends and increasing speculation about his presidential plans for 2008.[40]

In May 2006, Feingold voted in favor of bill S.2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, an immigration reform bill that was designed to give most illegal immigrants a chance to become legal citizens.[41]

Feingold co-sponsored a number of failed bills calling for the abolition of the death penalty.[42][43]

In 2009, Feingold voted against confirmation of Timothy Geithner to be United States Secretary of the Treasury, citing Geithner's personal tax issues.[44] Also in 2009, Feingold announced that he was planning to introduce a constitutional amendment which would prohibit governors from making temporary Senate appointments instead of holding special elections.[45]

Feingold cosponsored the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, which was signed into law in October 2009.[46]

Campaign finance reform[edit]

Feingold is perhaps best known for his work alongside Senator John McCain on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 – better-known as the McCain-Feingold Act.[47] The legislation, which took seven years to pass, became defunct in the wake of several U.S. Supreme Court decisions.[48][49]

Wall Street reform[edit]

On May 20, 2010, Feingold was one of two Democratic Senators to vote against the Dodd–Frank Wall Street reform bill,[50] citing his belief that the measures did not go far enough.[51] On July 15, 2010, he became the only Democratic Senator to vote against the Wall Street reform bill when it was brought up again, which passed by a 60-39 vote.[52]

Patriot Act[edit]

Feingold speaking on the Senate floor about his opposition to the Patriot Act, October 25, 2001.

Feingold was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act when first voted on in 2001.[53][54] At the time, Feingold stated that provisions in the act infringed upon citizens' civil liberties.[55]

When the bill was up for renewal in late December 2005, Feingold led a bipartisan coalition of senators – including Lisa Murkowski, Ken Salazar, Larry Craig, Dick Durbin, and John Sununu – to remove some of the Act's more controversial provisions.[56] Feingold led a filibuster against renewal of the act. In February 2006, the Senate voted 96-3 to break the filibuster and to extend the Patriot Act.[57][58]

In 2009, when the Act was again up for re-authorization, Feingold introduced the JUSTICE Act (S. 1686) "To place reasonable safeguards on the use of surveillance and other authorities under the USA PATRIOT Act."[59] Senator Patrick Leahy then introduced an alternative bill, about which Feingold later said "...while narrower than the JUSTICE Act that Senator Durbin and I have championed, [it] did contain several important and necessary protections for the privacy of innocent Americans." After what Feingold saw as the further watering down of civil liberty protections in the bill, it passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 8 on a vote of 11-8[60] with Feingold voting against it.[61]

War in Iraq[edit]

Feingold was one of 23 US senators to vote against H.J. Resolution 114, which authorized President George W. Bush to use force against Iraq in 2002.[62]

On August 17, 2005, he became the first senator to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and urge that a timetable for that withdrawal be set. He called other Democrats "timid" for refusing to take action sooner, and suggested December 31, 2006, as the date for total withdrawal of troops. On the subject of Bush's assertion that a deadline would be helpful to Iraqi insurgents, Feingold said, "I think he's wrong. I think not talking about endgames is playing into our enemies' hand."[63]

On April 27, 2006, Feingold announced that he would move to amend an appropriations bill granting $106.5 billion in emergency spending measure for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina relief to require that troops withdraw completely from Iraq.[64]

Call for a vote of censure against President Bush[edit]

On March 14, 2006, Feingold introduced a resolution in the Senate to censure President Bush.[65] This was a result of allegations of illegal wiretapping, as reported in The New York Times, that Bush did not follow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), which mandates use of a surveillance court for approval of wiretaps on Americans. Feingold made a 25-minute speech on the Senate Floor, declaring that Congress must "hold the president accountable for his actions". It received support from Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Barbara Boxer of California, although most Democratic senators avoided expressing an opinion on it. Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Patrick Leahy of Vermont expressed support for the bill, but Feingold was able to find only three co-sponsors.

Feingold again called for Bush's censure in July 2007 for his management of the Iraq war, accusing him of mounting an "assault" against the United States Constitution.[66]

Health care policy[edit]

Feingold in 2005.

Feingold supports the creation of a system of universal health care in America. During his first run for the Senate, he endorsed the single-payer model, in which the government pays for all healthcare costs.[67]

On July 24, 2006, at a press conference at the Martin Luther King Heritage Health Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Feingold announced that he had authored the State-Based Health Care Reform Act, a bill to create a pilot program for a system of universal healthcare under which each U.S. state would create a program to provide its citizenry with universal health insurance, and the federal government would provide the funding. The bill would create a non-partisan "Health Care Reform Task Force," which would provide five-year federal grants to two or three states. The program is expected to cost $32 billion over 10 years.[68]

Feingold voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which passed the Senate on December 24, 2009.[69]

Gun policy[edit]

Feingold has voted in favor of certain gun-control legislation, while also voting to expand certain gun rights.[70] Feingold signed the congressional amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Heller, a U.S. Supreme Court case which overturned a handgun ban in Washington, D.C.[71]

Feingold has voted in favor of bills to require background checks for handgun buyers, to require background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows, and to require that handguns be sold with trigger locks.[70] He came out in support of President Barack Obama's 2016 executive orders which expand background checks and strengthen enforcement of existing gun laws.[72]

Social issues[edit]

Feingold supports abortion rights.[31]

In 1996, Feingold was in a minority of legislators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law.[43] In an April 4, 2006 interview, Feingold announced that he favored the legalization of same-sex marriage.[73]

On May 18, 2006, Feingold walked out of a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly before a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Feingold objected to both the amendment and decision of Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA at the time) to move the meeting to an area of the Capitol Building not open to the public. Later that day, the committee voted to send the amendment to the full Senate.[74]

2008 possible presidential bid[edit]

Feingold on the campaign trail, stumping for Maria Cantwell (D-WA), October 2006.

In late January 2005, Feingold told the Tiger Bay Club of Volusia County, Florida that he intended to travel around the country before deciding whether or not to run in 2008.[75] In March 2005, his Senate campaign staff registered the domain, as well as the .org and .net versions.[76] On June 1, 2005, Feingold launched a political action committee (PAC), the Progressive Patriots Fund. A "draft Feingold" movement was established, independent of the senator's campaign.[77]

On August 17, 2005, Feingold became the first U.S. Senator of either party to suggest a firm date for American withdrawal from the Iraq war, saying that he favored a complete withdrawal by no later than December 31, 2006.[63]

On September 22, 2005, during the hearing on Judge John Roberts's nomination for Chief Justice of the United States, Feingold was one of three Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote in favor of sending Roberts's nomination to the floor for a full vote. He also announced that he would vote to confirm Roberts. Feingold graduated in the same Harvard Law School class (1979) as Roberts.[78] Feingold voted against Samuel Alito in committee and voted against cloture of debate regarding Alito's nomination on the Senate floor.[79]

Feingold, considered a longshot contender for president, announced in November 2006 that he would not seek his party's nomination in 2008.[80] He said that running for president would detract from his focus on the Senate, and the resulting scrutiny "would dismantle both my professional life (in the Senate) and my personal life."[4] In his parting comments, he warned his supporters against supporting anyone for the presidency who voted for the Iraq War, whether they later regretted it or not, saying his first choice for president in 2008 was someone who voted against the war, and his second choice is someone who wasn't in Congress but spoke out against the war at the time.[4]

On February 22, 2008, he stated that he voted for Barack Obama as the Democratic Party nominee for the 2008 presidential election.[81]

Post-congressional career[edit]

Following his defeat, Feingold was appointed a visiting professor at Marquette University Law School.[82] He wrote a book entitled While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call to the Post-9/11 World, and supported President Barack Obama in his reelection bid in the 2012 presidential election.[83] In February 2012, it was announced that Feingold would be a co-chair for President Obama's re-election campaign.[84] In 2012-13, he was the Stephen Edward Scarff Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lawrence University.[85] In 2012, he was the Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor at Stanford Law School.[86]

In February 2011, Feingold formed Progressives United, a Political Action Committee, and an affiliated nonprofit entity called Progressives United Inc.[2] The stated aim of Progressives United was "directly and indirectly supporting candidates who stand up for our progressive ideals."[87] From 2011 to 2015, the two groups raised and spent $10 million. Nearly half of the $7.1 million that the Progressives United PAC spent went to raising more money for itself. The PAC donated just $352,008, or 5% of its income, to federal candidates and political parties, with most of the rest of the budget going to overhead, including salaries or consulting fees for Feingold, his top aide and eight former staffers.[88] Feingold received $77,000 from the two groups, including $42,609 to buy hundreds of hardcover and leather-bound copies of his book, While America Sleeps. Progressives United Inc. shut down in late 2014, and the Progressives United PAC suspended its fundraising activities in May 2015 in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict with his run for the U.S. Senate.[89][90][91]

On June 18, 2013, Feingold was appointed United States Special Representative for the African Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo by United States Secretary of State John Kerry.[92] He announced his departure from the position on February 24, 2015.[93]

Personal life[edit]

Feingold resides in Middleton, Wisconsin. He is a member of Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where his sister, Dena Feingold, is rabbi.[94]

Feingold was married to Sue Levine from 1977 until 1986. They had two children. He married Mary Speerschneider in 1991; in 2005, the couple announced that they would be seeking a divorce.[95] In 2013, Feingold married Dr. Christine Ferdinand, a fellow at Magdalen College at Oxford University in England.[96]

In 2011, Feingold received a Freedom Medal from the Roosevelt Institute.[97]

Electoral history[edit]

1992 U.S. Senate Race — Democratic Primary
Candidate Pct Candidate Pct Candidate Pct
Russell D. Feingold 69% Jim Moody 14% Joe Checota 14%
Wisconsin Senator (Class III) results: 1992–2004[98]
Year Democrat Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1992 Russell D. Feingold 1,290,662 53% Robert W. Kasten, Jr. 1,129,599 46% Patrick W. Johnson Independent 16,513 1% William Bittner Libertarian 9,147 <1% Mervin A. Hanson, Sr. Independent 3,264 <1% *
1998 Russell D. Feingold 890,059 51% Mark W. Neumann 852,272 48% Robert R. Raymond U.S. Taxpayers 7,942 <1% Tom Ender Libertarian 5,591 <1% Eugene A. Hem Independent 4,266 <1% *
2004 Russell D. Feingold 1,632,697 55% Tim Michels 1,301,183 44% Arif Khan Libertarian 8,367 <1% Eugene A. Hem Independent 6,662 <1% *
2010 Russell D. Feingold 1,020,958 47% Ron Johnson 1,125,999 52% Rob Taylor Constitution 23,349 1%

*Write-in and minor candidate notes: In 1992, Robert L. Kundert received 2,747 votes, Joseph Selliken received 2,733 votes, and other write-ins received 459 votes. In 1998, write-ins received 706 votes. In 2004, write-ins received 834 votes.

Further reading[edit]

  • Horwitt, Sanford D. (2007). Feingold: A New Democratic Party. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1-4165-3492-X. 


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External links[edit]

Wisconsin State Senate
Preceded by
Everett Bidwell
Member of the Wisconsin Senate
for the 27th district

Succeeded by
Joe Wineke
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ed Garvey
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
(Class 3)

1992, 1998, 2004, 2010
Most recent
United States Senate
Preceded by
Bob Kasten
United States Senator (Class 3) from Wisconsin
Served alongside: Herb Kohl
Succeeded by
Ron Johnson
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Don Nickles
Baby of the Senate
Succeeded by
Rick Santorum
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Barrie Walkley
United States Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes and the Congo-Kinshasa
Succeeded by
Tom Perriello