Did Feingold Lose Because of Citizens United? (Part II)


Yesterday I noted Wendy Kaminer's criticism of a Katrina vanden Heuvel column in The Washington Post that described former Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) as "a victim of Citizens United spending." Kaminer pointed out that Feingold himself, in the very Nation interview that Vanden Heuvel cited to support her assertion, explicitly denied that his defeat was due to a flood of newly legal corporate spending. Vanden Heuvel responds to Kaminer's point by citing 1) the Feingold campaign's objections to Chamber of Commerce ads criticizing him and 2) Feingold's general complaints about the influence of corporate money on politics. Neither piece of evidence, of course, proves Feingold was defeated because he was outspent as a result of Citizens United—a claim he himself disavows.

Vanden Heuvel persists, saying Feingold was "the target of a campaign—lavishly funded by corporations and wealthy individuals—that used so-called 'independent expenditures' to attack the senator in the final weeks of the 2010 campaign." How lavishly funded was this campaign? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, "outside spending" against Feingold or in favor of his Republican opponent, Ron Johnson—some of which, such as independent spending by the

"wealthy individuals" Vanden Heuvel mentions, was legal before Citizens Unitedtotaled about $3 million. By comparison, Feingold spent more than $20 million, while Johnson spent about $15 million, most of it his own money (also legal before Citizens United).

You can see why Feingold, even though he co-authored the law that included the ban on "electioneering communications" that was overturned in Citizens United, does not try to blame his defeat on the ruling but instead attributes it to a widespread "throw the bums out" sentiment among voters. On this point at least, Feingold seems to have more intellectual integrity than Vanden Heuvel.

Kaminer speculates about "Why Katrina vanden Huevel Declines to Acknowledge a Mistake." Jesse Walker praises Feingold. I discuss the fallout from Citizens United and note that outspending your opponent does not guarantee electoral victory.