Russell Dana "Russ" Feingold (born March 2, 1953) is an American politician from the U.S. state of Wisconsin. He has served as a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate and the junior Senator from Wisconsin since 1993. A recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, Feingold is known for his liberal voting record and cosponsorship of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act ("McCain–Feingold Act"), a major piece of campaign finance reform legislation. He was also the only Senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act. He had been mentioned as a possible candidate in the 2008 Presidential election, but following the November midterm elections of 2006 he chose not to run.
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 in 1977, where he earned another Bachelor of Arts degree. Upon returning to the U.S., he attended Harvard Law School, receiving his J.D. with honors in 1979.
Also noted was Feingold's advertising campaign, which was widely compared to that used by progressive candidate Paul Wellstone in his victorious Senate campaign in Minnesota. Shot in the form of home movies, the ads attempted to portray Feingold, who always referred to himself as "the underdog running for U.S. senate," as a down-to-earth, Capra-esque figure, taking the audience on a guided tour of the candidate's home and introducing them to his children, all of whom were enrolled in public school.
The ads also contained a significant amount of humor. One featured Feingold meeting with an Elvis Presley impersonator, who offered Feingold his endorsement. (Bob Kasten responded to the Elvis endorsement with an advertisement featuring an Elvis impersonator attacking Feingold's record.) Another showed Feingold standing next to a pair of half-sized cardboard cut-outs of his opponents, refusing to "stoop to their level" as the two were shown literally slinging mud at one another. In still another, Feingold was shown conclusively demonstrating that there were no skeletons in any of his closets.
During the primary campaign, Feingold unveiled an 82-point plan to eliminate the deficit by the end of his first term. 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.
Feingold won by positioning himself as a quirky underdog who offered voters an alternative to the negative campaigning of opponents Jim Moody and Joe Checota. On primary day, Feingold, whose support had shown in the single digits throughout much of the campaign, surged to victory with 70 percent of the vote. 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.
In late December 2004, Feingold was appointed to be one of four deputy whips for the Senate Democrats. Feingold pledged that the new role would not sway his maverick stance within the party or the chamber.
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. In March 2005, his Senate campaign staff registered the domain www.russfeingold08.com, as well as the .org and .net versions; Feingold will not face reelection to the Senate until the 2010 election. On June 1, 2005, Feingold launched a political action committee (PAC), the Progressive Patriots Fund; launching a PAC is seen as an important step in running for President. A "draft Feingold" movement was established, independent of the senator's campaign.
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.
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 did Roberts, as well as Spencer Abraham, former U.S. senator from Michigan and former United States Secretary of Energy.) Many members of the Democratic blogosphere predicted that this vote would have a negative impact on his presidential aspirations, but Feingold's supporters pointed out that this was not the first time Feingold voted in favor of Bush's judicial nominees. However, Feingold voted against Samuel Alito in committee and voted against cloture of debate regarding Alito's nomination on the Senate floor.
Although Feingold usually received support in the single digits in opinion polls featuring various potential Democratic presidential candidates, he was highly popular among Democratic grassroots activists.
Following Democratic victories in the November 2006 mid-term elections, Feingold announced that he would not run for president in 2008. He said that running for president would detract from his focus on the Senate, and the likely prying into his recent divorce "would dismantle both my professional life (in the Senate) and my personal life." 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.
Feingold's primary legislative focus has been on campaign finance reform, fair trade policies, health care reform, conservation and environmental protection, a multilateral foreign policy, Social Security, civil liberties, and the elimination of capital punishment and wasteful spending.
Feingold was the only Democratic senator to vote against a motion to dismiss Congress's 1998–1999 impeachment case of President Bill Clinton. In a statement, Feingold said House prosecutors must have "every reasonable opportunity" to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Clinton should be removed from office on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Feingold ultimately voted against conviction on all charges.
In 2001, Feingold voted for the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft. This decision was not popular with his party, but Feingold explained that he voted based on respect for the right for a President to choose his Cabinet, not because of his own personal opinions on Ashcroft.
Feingold has also been an opponent of NAFTA and other free trade agreements, a popular position among many pro-fair trade Democrats, but at odds with the pro-free trade Democratic wing including the Democratic Leadership Council.
In May 2006, Feingold voted to support the Salazar Amendment, which would have declared English the "common language" of the country, but dissented in the vote for the Inhofe Amendment, which would have made English the "national language" of the United States.
On December 21 2004, Feingold wrote an article for popular webzine, Salon.com, regarding his golfing trip to Greenville, Alabama. 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.
As one of the strongest opponents of the capital punishment in the Senate, Feingold co-sponsored, along with Jon Corzine (who would later, as Governor of New Jersey, sign an abolition bill in his state), the National Death Penalty Moratorium Act in 2002.
On July 14, 2005, Feingold introduced a bill in the Senate that would ban lobbyists from giving gifts to senators and impose a $50,000 fine for violating the ban, force lawmakers to sign statements saying that lobbyists did not pay their travel expenses, forbid lawmakers from traveling on corporate jets, bar congressmen, staffers, and executive branch officials from serving as lobbyists for two years after leaving office, and require that lobbying reports be disclosed on a quarterly, rather than semi-annual, basis. The bill is the Senate version of a bill by Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA), who co-wrote the House version of McCain-Feingold, and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL). Neither version has yet come to a vote. The Feingold-McCain bill was initially waiting completion of McCain hearings on the issue, but the Jack Abramoff scandal has put it in the spotlight, along with several other more recent reform proposals.
Feingold, who was elected to Congress on a promise not to accept pay raises while in office, has so far returned over $50,000 in such raises to the U.S. Treasury. In addition, he is notoriously frugal in his office's spending, and sends back the money that he does not use. In one six-month period in 1999, for example, his office received $1.787 million in appropriations and returned $145,000, a higher percentage than any other senator.
When the bill was up for renewal in late December 2005, Feingold led a bipartisan coalition of senators that included Lisa Murkowski, Ken Salazar, Larry Craig, Dick Durbin, and John Sununu to remove some of the act's more controversial provisions. He led a successful filibuster against renewal of the act. This ultimately led to a compromise on some of its provisions. This compromise bill passed the Senate on March 2, 2006, by a vote of 89-10. Feingold was among the ten senators who voted nay, stating that the bill still lacked necessary protections for some civil liberties.
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."
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..
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 Constitution.
Feingold has long been an advocate for creating a system of universal health care in America. During his first run for the Senate, he endorsed the single-payer model, similar to that used by Canada. Once elected, he opposed the Clinton health care plan, saying that it did too much for the insurance industry and not enough for the uninsured. During the Bush administration, he has opposed the enactment of Medicare Part D and authored a bill to require the Senate leadership to submit health care reform bills.
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 health care 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 will provide five-year federal grants to two or three states. The program is expected to cost $32 billion over 10 years.
In March 2004, he explained his position in a speech on the Senate floor:
I have never accepted the proposition that the gun debate is a black and white issue, a matter of 'you're with us, or you're against us.' Instead, I have followed what I believe is a moderate course, faithful to the Constitution and to the realities of modern society. I believe that the Second Amendment was not an afterthought, that it has meaning today and must be respected. I support the right to bear arms for lawful purposes — for hunting and sport and for self-protection. Millions of Americans own firearms legally and we should not take action that tells them that they are second-class citizens or that their constitutional rights are under attack. At the same time, there are actions we can and should take to protect public safety that do not infringe on constitutional rights.
Gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry and have access to the same rights, privileges and benefits that straight couples currently enjoy. . . [In a later interview:] The proposed ban on civil unions and marriage is a mean-spirited attempt to divide Wisconsin and I indicated that it should be defeated
On May 18, 2006, Feingold again made news with his stance on marriage when he walked out of a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly before a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. After Feingold objected to both the amendment and decision of Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) to move the meeting to an area of the Capitol Building not open to the public, Specter told Feingold, "I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I. If you want to leave, good riddance." Feingold then replied, "I've enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr. Chairman. See ya." He then left the room and did not return. Later that day, the committee voted to send the amendment to the full Senate.
In 2004, the National Rifle Association gave him a grade of D (with F being the lowest grade and A the highest). On environmental issues, he was given scores of 100 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, and 73 percent from CUSP. The American Civil Liberties Union gave him a score of 89 percent.
|69%||Jim Moody||14%||Joe Checota||14%|
|Year||Democrat||Votes||Pct||Republican||Votes||Pct||3rd Party||Party||Votes||Pct||3rd Party||Party||Votes||Pct||3rd Party||Party||Votes||Pct|
|1998||Russell D. Feingold||890,059||51%||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%||*|