Maverick Senator Russ Feingold Felled by Corporate Dollars
Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation, was felled last night by corporate television ad dollars allowed to flood in by a Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC giving corporations the status of individuals
Many of you might already be familiar with my position regarding the act of voting, or rather the act of not voting. Some enthusiastically agreed while others were downright offended by my position. There are, however, a few representatives and senators who I admire on some level. Senator Russ Feingold was one of them.
Maybe it’s the strain of false nostalgia for my days as a Political Science major, in which I had delusions that I might be able to change things as an elected official. Whatever the case, I was slightly saddened to see Wisconsin’s Democratic Senator Russ Feingold lose his seat last night to plastics manufacturer and social climber Ron Johnson (yes, Ron Johnson is a gold digger).
Even in a year in which we knew Republicans would make significant congressional gains, the idea that Feingold — a man who marched to his own tune the majority of the time — could be so suddenly eliminated by a man with no experience seems downright absurd. (It’s also proof that something is terribly wrong in America’s political system. More on that later.) However, this gives too much credit to Johnson as a candidate and to the perceived sentiment of Wisconsin voters as a subset of national voter sentiment.
Feingold helped Senator McCain craft the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, popularly known as McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform. The bill was contentious from the get-go. In fact, I remember writing an essay on the subject when I was in college at the time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Before the essay, the students (hundreds of them) listened to our professor explain how the issue of campaign finance was not so black and white. While popular opinion indicated voters wanted an end to corporate dollars spent on state and national elections, there was the idea that donations from corporations and individuals were synonymous with free speech.
This angered me at the time, but I understood the reasoning. Ultimately I argued that those with a greater amount of cash (corporations, the rich and other elites) would have a louder voice because they could spend many thousands of dollars on expensive television, print and digital ads, effectively silencing those with little to donate. The loudest voice would create a rabble so loud and full of static, that the opposition would be drowned out, fading into irrelevance.
Isn’t that an appropriate metaphor for American politics in the larger sense? I will not call our government a democracy, for it doesn’t deserve the designation. It is what it has always been: a republic. A republic that might be best described as a corporation with representatives and bureaucrats being the stocks, the lobbyists the stock brokers, and the corporations (domestic and foreign) and the rich gleeful investors. And it’s common knowledge in investment that the more stocks that are owned, rising shares will yield greater stockholder return. Conversely, the more stocks owned, the greater the risk to investors if they were to lose.
The game is to keep things just the way they are — fixed. Stop the losses at all costs and ensure greater returns.
Think of Feingold’s defeat as a microcosm of American electoral politics: as the lens through which we look at the virus as a whole.
Here was an elected offical who was generally regarded as a man of the people, and by corporations as a man who just wouldn’t take the god-damned money. Too principled. A man who was not beholden to lobbyists, corporations or even his own party. He was the lone dissenting vote on the Patriot Act of 2001 –an act of defiance for which I will always have the greatest respect. He stood in the face of President Bush’s fear-mongering politics, braved the poison of false patriotism and nationalism (so strong it could make the Nazis blush with envy), and he did not give his vote.
It was such a sublime political moment, so perfect yet so fleeting and unheralded, that it makes me remember a poem given to me by my father when I went off to college. The poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling (a favorite for the college-bound), and the first line always stuck with me. And it seems apt when considering the human perfection that Feingold attained in his vote against the Patriot Act: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…” Feingold kept his head while everyone in this country were losing theirs in a miasma of patriotism so disgusting I thought we might never escape it.
Feingold was one of 28 US Senators who voted against Bush’s War in Iraq — not a popular move at the time. Many liberal stalwarts gave their vote so as to not look like obstructionists or un-patriotic. Feingold voted his conscience. He voted against the proposed constitutional ban against gay marriage. He voted to repeal tax subsidies for corporations moving U.S. jobs overseas. In 1998 re-election campaign, Feingold asked the Democratic party and special interest groups not to contribute soft money to his campaign (money for issue ads), angering some of his supporters and his own party. The corporations salivated and began licking their chops — it was only a matter of time.
In 2005, Senator Feingold was the first Senator to call for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and to set a timetable. And he was one of three Senators (the others being Robert Byrd and Tom Harkin) to vote against Goldman Sachs alumnus Timothy Geithner being installed as Secretary of the Treasury. He was against wasteful spending, pork barrel politics and corporate welfare, and was supported by centrist federal watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. Not the mark of a tax-and-spend Liberal by any stretch of the imagination.
Feingold’s 2004 campaign headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin had a t-shirt for sale that was black with a human’s white spine emblazoned on the back. It symbolized the backbone he brought to his political philosophy and how he would not prostrate himself before the thrown of would-be King George the Crusader.
How does a man of such principle fall? Make no mistake about it: money — corporate money — brought down Senator Russ Feingold. Not Ron Johnson, not the sentiment of Americans pissed off at minimal economic progress or Obama’s spending. He was a well-respected man not only in Wisconsin but across the nation amongst anyone who understood the dark nature of politics.
But, he put himself right in the crosshairs of corporate donors who did not take kindly to Feingold’s efforts in removing the most visible sign of their privileged government access. According to The Wisconsin State Journal, about $5 million in corporate TV ad spots were deployed in this election, with “most of that on ads opposing Feingold.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Ron Johnson (a corporate machine in the guise of a human being) spent $8 million of his personal fortune on the Senate race.
Truth: It took 18 years but the corporations killed Russ Feingold — beaten by the very same virus he attempted to eradicate in his campaign finance legislation.
He’s been replaced by a walking, talking corporation. A like-minded individual. A fucking drone. What further proof is needed that this country and this government have spun completely off their axes? Reason and logic have been lost in a cloud of static, a rabble. The reality field has been distorted again by forces who would have us believe Feingold’s defeat was an expression of the public will. Fuck the distortion.
This isn’t a post-mortem of Russ Feingold’s political life — it’s just another piece in the long-running post-mortem of democracy.