NY Times: 'In a Poignant Twist,' Heroic 'Maverick' 'Independent' Russ Feingold Loses in Wisconsin

In her Friday tribute to defeated liberal Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, "Independent Voters Turned on One of Their Own," New York Times reporter Katharine Seelye unconvincingly labeled him a heroic "independent."

Feingold may have held some idiosyncratic positions, but they were mostly left-wing ones. In 2002 he sponsored with Sen. John McCain stiff legislation on campaign finance that endeared him to liberals, and his lifetime voting rating of 13 as measured by the American Conservative Union is well left of center.

The irony was lost on no one. Senator Russ Feingold, a liberal with a fierce streak of independence who crusaded against the influence of money in politics, was toppled Tuesday in a campaign awash in the kind of unregulated cash he had struggled to keep out of the system.

And in a poignant twist, the loss came, in part, because independents flocked to his opponent, despite Mr. Feingold's record of one maverick vote after another.

By "maverick," Seelye evidently means "left-wing," as all of her examples show Feingold voting to the left of even his Democratic caucus.

He was the sole senator to oppose the USA Patriot Act after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He also broke with President Obama on several occasions, opposing the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, the bailing out of financial institutions in 2008 and the regulation of Wall Street this year, saying the restrictions did not go far enough.

Most prominently, he battled his colleagues to overhaul the campaign finance system; the resulting law, passed in 2002, bore his name and that of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican (who won re-election Tuesday).

After being eroded for years, the McCain-Feingold Act was gutted this year by the Supreme Court, helping to pave the way for millions of dollars to gush into campaigns from outside groups, most of whom do not have to reveal their donors - including at least $4 million in Wisconsin this year, virtually all of it against Mr. Feingold, 57, or for his opponent, Ron Johnson, 55, a wealthy Republican businessman.

Seelye finally raised an inconvenient fact that marred her narrative of Feingold as falling victim to untrammeled campaign spending:

As it happens, Mr. Feingold raised and spent more money than Mr. Johnson, at least as of mid-October. In fact, their arms race led to what appeared to be the most expensive Senate race in Wisconsin history, topping out at more than $35 million.

Mr. Feingold had raised $18.2 million and spent $16.2 million by the middle of last month, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Johnson raised $12.8 million, and spent $10.5 million, pumping in more than $8.2 million of his own money.


Despite his independence, Mr. Feingold allied himself strongly with certain Obama policies, including the health care bill, for which Mr. Johnson repeatedly bashed him.

- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.