Ex-Wisconsin Sen. Feingold Launches New PAC

On Wednesday, former Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold launched his new political action committee, Progressives United. Feingold says the PAC will push progressive ideals, with a particular focus on corporate contributions to political candidates. Host Michele Norris speaks with Feingold about this new endeavor.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And we're going to stay in Wisconsin, where former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold has long been known as a fighter - doing battle against Republicans and Democrats on issues ranging from campaign finance to the Patriot Act.

Now, Feingold is waging battle to fight back against both parties and the media, this time from the political sidelines. He lost his bid for a fourth term in the Senate last fall. Feingold today launched a grassroots political action committee called Progressives United. Its goal is to help fight corporate influence over politics.

And Senator Feingold joins us now from Milwaukee.

Welcome to the program, sir.

RUSS FEINGOLD: Good to be in the show and thank you.

NORRIS: Now, why did you decide to do this, and why now?

FEINGOLD: Well, I can't think of a better time. Over a hundred years ago, this state helped lead the country out of one of the worst eras in the history of our nation in terms of the dominance of corporate and big-money influence. That was the progressive movement led by Robert M. La Follete - Fighting Bob as we call him here in Wisconsin. And that was to respond to the Gilded Age.

What's going on now with the power of corporations, particularly after the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, is like the gilded age on steroids. So this is the moment to try to reinvigorate a progressive response to what's going on.

NORRIS: You talked about the return of something like a gilded age. I'm curious about your thoughts on the White House seemingly taking a more pro-business stance in the second half of the term. The administration says this is necessary to get the economy back on track.

Let's just listen to the president for a second, speaking to the Chamber of Commerce.

BARACK OBAMA: We need an economy that's based not on what we consume and borrow from other nations but what we make and what we sell around the world. We need to make America the best place on Earth to do business.

NORRIS: Now, you have argued that corporations have too much influence over the political process and really much else in Washington. But does the president have a bit of a point, that in order to right the economy, the government needs to take a much more pro-business stance, to work with the Chamber of Commerce and corporations instead of doing battle with them?

FEINGOLD: Well, not only is there nothing wrong with a pro-business stance, it's essential to have a pro-business stance. But that's not the same thing as a pro-giant-multinational-corporation stance. In fact, they're very much opposites.

I think the president's first two years were very much pro-business. When you think about what that stimulus package did all over the state of Wisconsin, to help promote business, it was a very positive message. And I think taking care of these health care costs is pro-business.

But that's entirely different than letting corporations have a stranglehold on the political process.

NORRIS: This is the week that the White House rolled out its spending plan. So I'd like to ask you about the budget. The White House had braced for a backlash from progressives, a group that the administration sometimes refers to as the professional left.

As a progressive yourself, I'm curious about your reaction to the budget cuts that the president is proposing.

FEINGOLD: Well, I am not going to get into all the details of each and every cut. I can just say I - I can't say that I would agree with all of them.

My concern is this: We gave away the store when we gave away huge tax cuts to very-high-income people at the end of last year. What you've done is done something so much more dramatic than any cuts that the president has proposed that it really is out of whack. And we need to reassert a progressive attitude, which is it really isn't our top priority to make sure that very-high-income people get tax cuts at this time. That's just not the right direction.

NORRIS: The politics that we see in this country are often a reflection of the times, and as you noted, you come from a state with a very strong progressive tradition, but it's a state that's also taken a decisive turn to the right across the board and really across the entire state.

Is it possible that you and your ideas are somewhat out of touch with the voters in Wisconsin?

FEINGOLD: You know, I don't think the voters of this state for a minute thought that we should start attacking public employees and public employee unions and the right to collectively bargain. This was a tough election because the economy was in a very bad condition, and people wanted to send a message.

But I'm pretty sure the message was not: destroy the opportunities for working people to protect themselves. That's not an agenda that is truly popular here in Wisconsin, and it won't be...

NORRIS: But the voters have spoken.

FEINGOLD: Well, the voters did speak. They wanted to have different people in office. But that doesn't mean they expected these policies. And guess what? The voters will speak again, and they're going to say something very different.

NORRIS: Russ Feingold, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much for making time for us.

FEINGOLD: Good talking to you.

NORRIS: Russ Feingold is the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin. Today, he launched a new political action committee called Progressives United.

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