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Ex-senator laments impact of campaign law’s overturn

By Bryan Richardson

Former Sen. Russ Feingold Tuesday criticized the consequences of a Supreme Court decision overturning portions of a campaign finance reform act he helped write .

Feingold, a former three-term senator from Wisconsin, co-sponsored the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act. He spoke about the court’s decision on that act and also explored the topics of campaign finance, bipartisanship and foreign policy during UFM’s Lou Douglas Lecture Series at Forum Hall.

The Supreme Court ruled in the 2010 case of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that it was unconstitutional to restrict independent campaign contributions by corporations and unions.

The ruling specifically struck down the McCain-Feingold Act’s provision banning advertisements paid for by corporations and unions that name a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or caucus or 60 days of a general election.

Feingold argued that the decision also overturns provisions in a 1907 act prohibiting corporations from using money from corporate treasurers for campaigning; along with the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which stated that unions can’t use member dues for campaigning.

“Anyone who tells you it’s just the same it always was, they’re covering it up,” he said. “The fact is the United States Supreme Court single-handedly changed the way we run elections by a 5-4 decision two years ago.”

Feingold said the Citizens United decision gives more power to corporations and diminishes the impact of small contributions by citizens.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” he said. “Well, there also no such thing as a free $10 million contribution.”

Feingold used the evolution of the filibuster as an example of the lack of bipartisanship in today’s Congress. “Even at its worst, the filibuster was not used all the time to stop legislation and in particular, the filibuster was not used for partisan purposes,” he said.

Feingold said politicians are considered traitors if they seek to work with the other side, mentioning the term RINO, Republican In Name Only, as an example. He said the community can be the catalyst behind a change in legislator interactions.

“Politicians will follow if you demand bipartisanship,” he said. “It’s about high time we do it.”

Feingold, who was promoting his book, “While America Sleeps: A Wake-up Call for the Post-9/11 Era,” said America hasn’t been fully prepared for the way the world conducts itself.

Feingold admitted to having a lack of understanding about the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in the lead-up to Sept. 11. He mentioned events such as the USS Cole bombing in October 2000 and the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

Feingold said Congress wasn’t preoccupied with these actions at the time, but focused on things like impeaching President Bill Clinton. He said he doesn’t blame Clinton or President George W. Bush for being unable to stop events that led to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Feingold said the problem now is the old mentality of thinking about al-Qaeda as taking place in a few countries rather than as a broader terror network. “I think we have a hard time holding more than two or three places in our head at a time,” he said.

Feingold said Libya, where U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed in a terrorist attack, is currently a country of focus. But he said terrorism is deeper than that.

“If you can’t think about the interconnections of the different countries in Northern Africa and the interconnections of the countries in the Middle East, we’re not going to understand this situation,” he said.

Feingold said there needs to be a national dialogue about foreign policy and how to get ahead of the curve.

He mentioned how his mother was fluent in six languages while he only knows English as a personal failing. He said congresspersons should be assigned different countries to learn about.

“This is about all of us including me doing a better job of learning about the rest of the world,” he said.

Feingold, who was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act in the first vote, said the act’s provisions include roving wiretaps and searches without immediate notification of a search warrant.

Feingold said he was curious about how much of a problem the invasion of privacy is for the younger generation. As a person from an older generation, he said privacy doesn’t seem as important for younger people.

Feingold said it will be hard to eliminate the act’s provisions. “The more power the government gets, it’s likely to keep its power,” he said.

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