- Co-author, with Republican Senator John McCain, of the controversial 2002 Campaign Finance Reform Act
- Was the only U.S. senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001
- Opposed the October 2002 joint resolution to authorize the use of the U.S. Armed Forces against Iraq
- Opposes the exploration of additional U.S. oil reserves
- Usually opposes tax cuts
Born in Janesville, Wisconsin in March 1953, Russell Feingold worked as a volunteer on the presidential campaigns of Democrats John Lindsay (1972), Mo Udall (1976), and Ted Kennedy (1980). After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975, Feingold was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Magdalen College at Oxford, where he obtained yet another B.A. degree. He then returned to the U.S. and earned a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School in 1979.
From 1979 to 1985, Feingold worked as an attorney at two private law firms in Wisconsin. In 1982 he won a seat in the Wisconsin State Senate, where he served for ten years. In 1992 he was elected to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate, where he served until January 2011.
Feingold is best known for co-sponsoring, with Republican Senator John McCain, the controversial Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, which imposed strict restrictions on political advocacy, and which, according to its critics, violated the First Amendment and increased the influence of money in political races.
Feingold often used his office to declare against American military interventions around the world, regardless of which party controlled the White House. In 1997, for example, he lobbied to cut off funds for U.S. military efforts in Bosnia and advocated an early withdrawal of the American forces stationed there. "What they [the Clinton administration] haven't done is define a concrete exit strategy for our American troops," Feingold complained at the time. In 1999 Feingold was one of only three Democrats to oppose U.S. air strikes against Yugoslavian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. "There is no timetable [for] withdrawal, no cost assessment, no exit strategy," Feingold said.
In public pronouncements, Feingold repeatedly assailed President George W. Bush's decision to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, bluntly asserting in one speech that standing by the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq was "not patriotic." Nor were Democratic supporters of the Iraq War immune from Feingold's scorn. "Frankly, too many Democrats voted for the war," the senator declared in December 2005. Asked about the war in a November 2005 interview, Feingold told ABC News that "this is not a war that we should really think [of] in terms of winning or losing." On other occasions, he asserted that Iraq was disconnected from the larger fight against Islamist terrorism.
In December 2005, when the New York Times reported that the National Security Agency, under President Bush's authority, had used wiretaps on international phone calls to monitor al Qaeda suspects, Feingold was one of only two Democratic senators (the other was Carl Levin of Michigan) who immediately alleged that the President had broken the law.
In January 2007, Feingold publicly opposed President Bush's decision to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq to help quell the insurgency there. Moreover, Feingold announced that he would soon introduce legislation to cut off any further congressional funding of the war.
During his legislative career, Feingold voted:
- in favor of a 2003 bill to ban oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;
- against a 2007 proposal to permit natural gas exploration and extraction at least fifty miles off the coast of Virginia;
- in favor of a 1993 amendment to reduce funding for ballistic-missile defense programs;
- against major tax-cut proposals in 1999, 2000, 2000 (again), 2001, 2003, 2005, and 2006;
- in favor of a 2005 income-tax hike for individuals in the top tax bracket;
- in favor of a 2008 bill imposing a 25 percent tax on the “windfall profits” of major oil companies;
- against the 2001 anti-terrorism measure known as the Patriot Act (Feingold was the only U.S. senator to oppose the measure, in a 98-1 vote);
- against an October 2002 joint resolution to authorize the use of the U.S. Armed Forces against Iraq;
- against a 2006 proposal to create military commissions to try unlawful enemy combatants for war crimes they had committed against the U.S.;
- in favor of separate proposals (in 2006, 2007, and again in 2007) to impose an arbitrary timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq;
- against a 1995 amendment to make it easier for law-enforcement authorities to wiretap roving terrorism suspects;
- against a 2006 proposal authorizing the FBI to conduct “roving wiretaps” and to access certain business records, as well as to make most provisions of the Patriot Act permanent;
- in favor of a 2008 amendment removing telecommunications companies’ immunity from the FISA Amendments Act of 2008;
- in favor of the 2006 Immigration Reform Bill, which would have created a path to citizenship for all illegal aliens who had resided in the U.S. for at least five years;
- against a 2006 proposal to provide $1.8 billion for the construction of 370 miles of triple-layered fencing and 461 miles of vehicle barriers along America’s southwest border with Mexico;
- against separate bills (in 2006 and 2008) calling for the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, and for additional measures to stem the flow of illegal immigration;
- in favor of a 2007 proposal to end the use of a point-based immigration system, (i.e., a system that seeks to ensure that people with skills that society needs are given preference for entry into the United States);
- in favor of a 2007 bill to fund the REAL ID Act of 2005, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards;
- in favor of affirmative-action policies awarding preferential treatment to business enterprises owned by nonwhite minorities and women;
- in favor of a 1996 welfare-reform bill designed to move large numbers of people off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs;
- in favor of a 1993 amendment banning the possession of certain semiautomatic firearms;
- against separate proposals (in 2004 and 2005) to ban lawsuits against gun manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers for damages resulting from the misuse of their products by others;
- in favor of a 1993 amendment to substitute life imprisonment for all death-penalty provisions;
- against separate bills (in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2003) designed to ban the late-term procedure commonly known as “partial-birth abortion”;
- against a 2004 proposal to make it an added criminal offense for someone to injure or kill a fetus while carrying out a crime against a pregnant woman; and
- against a 1996 bill defining marriage exclusively as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.
Feingold has long advocated the implementation of socialized, government-run healthcare in America.
In 2007 the liberal advocacy group Americans For Democratic Action assessed Feingold’s lifetime voting record and gave it a rating of 98 percent (on a 0-to-100 scale, where zero is completely conservative and 100 is at the far-left end of the political spectrum). By contrast, the American Conservative Union gave Feingold a rating of 12 percent.
In November 2010, Feingold lost third bid for re-election, to Republican challenger Ron Johnson.