MADISON, Wis. — Hollywood star Robert Redford made a plea Monday for donations even lower than the average movie ticket price to defeat Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, while a super PAC supporting the incumbent said it planned to launch a new half-million dollar attack ad portraying Democrat Russ Feingold as weak on national security.
And Feingold defended Hillary Clinton as “reliable and trustworthy” but said she should still consider shutting down her family’s charitable foundation if she becomes president.
The moves 10 weeks before the Nov. 8 rematch between Johnson and Feingold come in advance of the long Labor Day weekend that’s traditionally seen as the time most voters really begin to focus on the election.
Wisconsin’s Senate race is one of the most closely watched nationally as Democrats see an opportunity to pick up a seat as they try to reclaim majority control. A poll by the Marquette University Law School released earlier this month showed Feingold, a former senator, ahead of Johnson 6 points among registered voters and 11 points among likely voters. The next Marquette poll was due Wednesday.
Redford, an Academy Award-winning actor and director who portrayed a U.S. Senate candidate in the 1972 film “The Candidate,” has been a longtime Feingold supporter. He campaigned for him in Wisconsin in 1998 and this year he asked supporters to send as little as $3 to help send Feingold back to the Senate because he stands up for economic justice and working people.
The Redford campaign plea comes even as Feingold has been branded as a hypocrite by Johnson for breaking a 1992 pledge to take the majority of campaign donations from Wisconsin donors.
Only about 30 percent of his campaign donations have come from Wisconsin this election cycle, compared with 55 percent for Johnson, according to the political money watchdog group the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Feingold promised Wisconsinites he would stand against outside money, but now as he desperately tries to return to Washington, D.C., he’s changed,” said Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Pat Garrett. “What’s even worse, he changed just to further his career.”
Feingold, who co-authored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law designed to limit the influence of special interest money, has argued that taking most of his money from Wisconsin donors no longer makes sense in the wake of the Citizens United ruling that altered the campaign finance landscape by legalizing large, undisclosed contributions.
It’s national security, not campaign finance, that will be the focus of the newest ad in the race coming from the Let America Work political action committee. The group’s senior adviser Curt Anderson told reporters on a conference call that it will spend about $500,000 on the spot that’s running statewide for 10 days starting Friday.
Let America Work has spent about $417,000 on the race so far, while all outside groups have spent about $5.8 million, based on the Center for Responsive Politics’ tally. Of that, about $4.8 million has benefited Johnson compared with about $1 million for Feingold.
Anderson wouldn’t release the actual ad, or provide details. But in a hint at the ad’s contents, Anderson said it was a “strategic mistake” for Feingold to run a spot earlier in the campaign where he talked tough on national security and his plans for defeating terrorists. Anderson said Feingold is vulnerable on that issue and he sounded like a phony in the ad.
Feingold told reporters after a speech at the state’s biennial AFL-CIO convention that “really nothing is more important than taking on these awful groups.” Feingold said he’s put forward a serious and specific plan while Johnson only talks about it “when there’s a tragedy and goes on Fox News.”
Feingold renewed his call, first made last week, that if elected president Clinton should consider ended the charitable Clinton Foundation.
Questions have been swirling in the presidential race about whether Clinton crossed ethical lines during her tenure as secretary of state by talking with people outside the government who had contributed to her family’s philanthropy foundation. Feingold said when someone becomes president it’s “very, very important to make sure there are no questions” and “it may be a good idea not to have” the foundation.