Feingold’s comeback bid gets major jolt from online donors

Man in dark suit and yellow tie stands behind a podium
Former Sen. Russ Feingold speaking at Arizona State University in 2012

Former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who announced in May his plans to run for the Senate seat he lost in 2010, raised more than $900,000 online this quarter — making it likely that his committee will raise $1 million when the quarter ends on June 30. A Wisconsin Democratic Party official confirmed that Feingold’s campaign will break $1 million when its full filings are released by the July 15 deadline.

Federal Election Commission filings from ActBlue, the online fundraising tool for Democratic candidates and organizations, show that Feingold raised $936,519.77 online from April 1 to June 17. Though ActBlue normally files monthly filings, mandatory disclosures due to special elections in New York and Illinois give a sneak peak into Democratic fundraising for the upcoming quarter.

A Sunlight Foundation analysis of the more than 1 million contributions received by ActBlue during the time period showed that Feingold’s authorized political committee, Russ for Wisconsin, raised the most of any congressional committee or candidate using the platform. The only candidate with higher earnings through the platform was Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who received a hefty $8.4 million.

Graph showing Feingold's contributions from ActBlue
Donations to Russ for Wisconsin obtained from ActBlue FEC filings.

Ninety-eight percent of the more than 20,000 contributions earmarked for Feingold’s campaign were small donations of $200 or less. The average contribution made to Feingold was $43.48, with small donations accounting for 54 percent of the total amount raised. Forty percent of contributions were from Wisconsin, Feingold’s home state. New York residents contributed the next highest amount, accounting for 14 percent of the total amount raised.

Feingold raised $307,000 on May 14 alone, the day he announced the start of his campaign in a 90-second ad, taking aim at big money in politics. Feingold, a former three-term senator before he lost to current Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, lends his name to the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act, which has since been weakened by the Supreme Court in the recent Citizens United and McCutcheon cases.

Earlier this month, Feingold put forth the Badger Pledge, an agreement that both he and Johnson not accept support from independent organizations like super PACs and 501(c) organizations. In the event of an independent expenditure ad buy, the candidate benefitted would be obligated to pay half of the cost to a charity of his opponent’s choosing. Johnson has not commented on the pledge, a move that Feingold’s campaign has highlighted in press releases.

But around the same time, Feingold came under fire after a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece found that a political action committee he had founded to aid federal candidates spent less than 5 percent of its income on direct contributions. The group, Progressives United PAC, founded to “directly and indirectly” fund “candidates who stand up for our progressive ideals,” spent only $350,000 of the $7 million raised on candidates.

Bernie Sanders, who has been running on a platform opposed to Citizens United and big money in politics, had 79 percent of his ActBlue contributions come from small donors. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also in the Democratic primary race, earned $331,000 through ActBlue donations in the time period analyzed. Only 2 percent of that came from small donors, with the average O’Malley donor contributing $983.