CHARLOTTE, North Carolina -- Since leaving office two years ago, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has taught at Marquette University's Law School and written a book on U.S. foreign policy -- along with launching a political action committee dedicated to advancing progressive causes. Feingold is in Charlotte, North Carolina to speak with Wisconsin's delegation ahead of the Democratic National Convention, and sat down with FOX6's Mike Lowe for a one-on-one interview.
Feingold has been out of politics for two years, but remains the most beloved figure in the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Feingold is still working on public policy issues and working to get Democrats elected.
Mike Lowe: "I'd like to begin with the issue of campaign finance. I think you can argue that every single important American issue essentially goes back to that point. We have what is a legal, but corrupt system. What can be done to fix this?"
Russ Feingold: "First, you've got to overturn this ridiculous Supreme Court decision. We can overturn that decision by re-electing President Obama. I think he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would actually follow the law. So that's first, but in the meantime requiring through Congressional law and state law, the disclosure of these contributions, so people can see the corruption. They can see $10 million going from somebody who clearly wants something -- that the democracy is being taken away from people, so we can do things in the short-term and the long-term to turn things around. At the moment it's pretty disgusting."
Mike Lowe: "In theory, we're supposed to be able to see where the money is going. In practice, we're not seeing it. They're shielding their donations to these third-party groups, the not-for-profit groups -- not the Super PACs that we thought were the danger."
Russ Feingold: "The problem is the Citizens United decision allows corporations to spend this kind of money in a variety of ways and one of them is going through tax loop holes. Social welfare groups --- they're not really social welfare groups. They're being used for political ads, so Citizens United set that up, but they aren't, as you said, doing it necessarily through Super PACs. They are in effect doing indirectly created Super PACs through these tax exemptions."
Mike Lowe: "How does this effect the way we make laws?"
Russ Feingold: "It's unbelievable what it does. It completely takes away the power of the people to have their representatives do what they want. I saw this in 1990s when John McCain and I got rid of the soft money contributions to political parties. That still isn't allowed, but before we stopped that -- unlimited contributions to the political parties meant that we deregulated Wall Street, passed trade agreements that shipped our jobs overseas, got rid of all the restrictions on telecommunications consolidation. Essentially, huge gifts to corporate America. The key is they bought both parties off. That's what's happening again. It's not just what happens in the elections. It's what happens afterward. You get both parties bought off by big corporations, and the rest of us are left having no influence, so that's a cancer on our system."
Mike Lowe: "You mentioned that both parties have been guilty of this. To the extent that I think Democrats can be disappointed in the sense that he populated a lot of his administration with the same people who championed deregulation -- and some people were responsible for the financial meltdown, do you count yourself among those who are disappointed by that?"
Russ Feingold: "On that point, yes. With regard to the financial industry, I'm not happy with the people he's had running the show. But on almost all the other issues, I think he's been a very good president."
Mike Lowe: "There are many in the Democratic Party who see you as 'the hope' -- maybe the person who could defeat Gov. Scott Walker in the next election. Do you have any appetite for that?"
Russ Feingold: "I'm enjoying not doing it right now. I had 28 years where I worked on the state level and the federal level. This has been a really good time for me to look at things from another perspective -- to teach to write, to be with people and see the world the way non-political people do. I may want to do it again. It would more likely be federal office than state office, but I'm not going to make any decision about that for a couple of years. I enjoy the fight and I enjoy public policy, so maybe I'll try to do it again."
Feingold is leaving Charlotte early and heading back to Wisconsin to help state candidates campaign.
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