Sen. McCaskill fires back at Feingold

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she was angry that former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) singled her out for “shame” in an email to his new liberal political action committee (PAC).

“It is disappointing to me that he would take potshots at me from the sidelines, without even having the courtesy of picking up the phone and calling me,” she said. 

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In a fundraising email to his Progressive United PAC on Tuesday, Feingold accused McCaskill, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) of cozy relationships with corporations.

“It is really discouraging to me that Russ would somehow make an allegation that this is about me protecting corporate interests,” McCaskill said on Capitol Hill.

McCaskill, who faces a tough reelection campaign next year, said if Feingold had contacted her, “he would understand that this is about good government, this isn’t about corporate interests.”

Hoyer, McCaskill and Lieberman have all expressed skepticism about a new executive order under consideration by President Obama that would require contractors to disclose their political contributions. After Republicans in Congress last year stymied progress on the Disclose Act, a bill that sought to counteract the effects of a Supreme Court decision freeing up corporate spending in politics, the administration has turned to other alternatives to achieve its goals.

Feingold wrote in his email: “This culture of corporate influence and corruption is precisely what we at Progressives United want to change. So we’ve decided to take on those legislators who are unwilling to stand up to corporate power, and we’re naming names.”

He also asked for $5 donations to “shame” those lawmakers with online ads.

Lieberman’s office shot back at Feingold.

“Sen. Lieberman has never been afraid of taking on corporate interests and believes that advocates of good government should be concerned that this proposal could very well have the unintended consequence of politicizing the contracting process in a way that would be damaging to the public interest,” said Whitney Phillips, a spokeswoman for Lieberman.

Hoyer’s office said specific groups shouldn’t be singled out for their donations.

“Mr. Hoyer strongly supports the disclosure of campaign contributions to facilitate transparency, but he believes that disclosure requirements must be done in a comprehensive way that does not single one group out. He continues to urge Senate Republicans to follow their own calls for transparency in elections and work with us to pass the Disclose Act this year,” spokesman Katie Grant said.

Feingold’s email also singled out three Republicans — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) — for their opposition to the proposed order. They and a number of other Republicans have charged the president with an assault on free speech.

Democrats’ objections differ slightly; they have expressed worry that disclosing contractors’ donations would have the effect of tying donations to winning contracts.

“Contracting decisions should be made on one basis and one basis only, and that is: How can we get the best deal? Not who you’ve given money to or how much you’ve given,” McCaskill said. “So I think it is inappropriate to put campaign disclosures in a marriage with a contracting decision.”

Feingold called the objections shenanigans.

“Some Democrats are joining Republicans in pressing to keep the cycle of political money and federal contracts hidden,” Feingold wrote. “Incredibly, they’re claiming that transparency will somehow lead to more corruption. I spent nearly two decades in the Senate, and I can tell you: That’s just baloney.”

Feingold spent three terms in the Senate, during which he staked out a reputation as a liberal stalwart and advocate for good government; the landmark 2002 campaign finance reform law bears his and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) names. He lost in 2010 to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

But the attack on former colleagues, particularly the second-ranking Democrat in the House, was a curious move for someone like Feingold, a lawmaker who is only a few months removed from office and who is considered a leading contender to succeed retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) in 2012. Feingold hasn’t yet said if he’ll run for the Senate next year.

It’s conceivable that Feingold is jockeying for support in a potentially crowded Democratic primary field, which could include another liberal darling, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.).