POLITICS
09/22/2010 04:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Russ Feingold, TARP Critic, Down In The Polls To Bailout Beneficiary Ron Johnson

Yesterday, Public Policy Polling released its most recent survey of the Wisconsin Senate campaign, and what the numbers said were shocking, to many. According to PPP, incumbent Senator Russ Feingold is trailing his opponent, Ron Johnson, by double-digits. And so everyone suddenly got interested in the race.

This is somewhat understandable. When it comes to the larger election bellwethers, the struggles of a storied Democratic senator really spices up the election narrative. That it's Feingold is all the more extraordinary -- this is the guy who'd won re-election again and again, all the while making very principled votes that frequently rankled his own party. He's best known for the landmark campaign finance reform bill he labored to produce with his across-the-aisle partner, John McCain. At present, he may be one of the last members of the Congressional Adult Caucus.

And in this current climate of childish bloodletting and movement-based temper tantrums, that may be as good an explanation as any for Feingold's recent woes. But maybe the problem is that, as Dave Weigel noted yesterday, Johnson, "after Chris Coons," is probably "the least-covered frontrunner of the cycle."

Well, then! With impeccable timing comes The Awl's Abe Sauer, with the first comprehensively critical take on Johnson that I've encountered. Of particular salience to me, is Sauer's second paragraph:

Now campaign finance filings found by The Awl show that despite his vigorous denouncement of the bank bailouts, Johnson's campaign has received funding from many of the same banks who received bailouts. This means you and I have helped fund Ron Johnson's anti-bailout campaign. So we should get to know him.

Say it with me now! CIRCLE OF LIFE. Yes, Johnson, he hates him some bank bailouts. In fact, as Sauer points out, Johnson has presented himself as something of a Randian acolyte -- insofar as one can be an acolyte by prominently displaying his "Atlas Shrugged" bumpersticker. Johnson loves freedom. And he hates government subsidies, save the ones that have benefitted him. And he has cultivated for himself the persona of the self-made man, which apparently now includes being "set up with [his] business by his billionaire father-in-law."

But really, let's hear more about how those bank bailouts have translated into largesse for Johnson's campaign:

Much like many of this year's tea party-associated GOP candidates, one of Johnson's core campaign points is criticism of the financial bailout. Funny then that Johnson's campaign has been the beneficiary of the largess of the very corporations he believes should not have received bailout money.

For example, the cash Johnson received from the Financial Services Roundtable PAC on August 27 and the American Bankers Association PAC on July 8 and July 30 came from, amongst others, hardcore Treasury bailout beneficiaries such as JP Morgan Chase, SunTrust, Bank of America, Regions Financial, Zions and First Horizon. The money Ron Johnson received from the Bluegrass and Senate Majority Fund PACs came, in part, from one of the greatest bailout beneficiaries of them all, Goldman Sachs. Despite statements about staying out of politics this cycle, Goldman donated to both PACs on March 31 of this year. On June 24, Ron Johnson's campaign received two $5,000 donations from the Bluegrass PAC, a day later the campaign received two donations from the Senate Majority PAC in the same amounts.

To be clear, while it may not be the backbone of his funding, some of the very bailout money that Ron Johnson has criticized is now funding his campaign.

What makes Feingold's deficit all the stranger is that Feingold has not committed what is shaping up to be this campaign season's original sin: he didn't vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. He's since voted to end it twice. He's the author of the Control Spending Now Act, which would take unspent Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds and use them to pay down the deficit."

In short, he's as vigorous an opponent of bank bailouts as you're likely to find anywhere. And I'm surprised that he's faring as poorly as he is, lacking that black mark of TARP support. Could it be that people just do not know Johnson well enough to understand that his entire identity is at best ironic? Well, here's Sauer's piece. Go read the whole thing. And now you know.

RELATED:
Dystopian Wisconsin: Who is Ron Johnson? [The Awl]

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