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Russ Feingold: Spending barrage shows ‘outside corporate interests’ want to bail out Ron Johnson

November 1, 2016 GMT

Facing a last-minute crush of campaign spending that Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson says shows an increasingly tight U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, Democrat Russ Feingold told reporters Tuesday that “outside corporate interests” are trying to salvage Johnson’s candidacy.

Feingold’s remarks came at a campaign event on the UW-Madison campus Tuesday.

Feingold, D-Middleton, also declined to criticize FBI Director James Comey, as many other Democrats have done, for telling Congress Friday that the bureau is reviewing newly discovered emails that may be relevant to its prior investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as U.S. Secretary of State.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a fellow Wisconsin Democrat who joined Feingold at the event, said Comey “made an error in judgment” by releasing the information so close to Election Day.

Polls consistently have shown Feingold solidly leading his race against the incumbent Johnson, R-Oshkosh, who defeated him six years ago.

But some of the most recent polls have shown a tighter race. And outside groups have rolled out millions in ad buys over the last week, which some see as a further sign that Feingold’s lead in the race, long viewed by many as secure, may now be in jeopardy.

Feingold said in press conference Tuesday that “what you’re seeing is the corporate powers in this country quickly coming into Wisconsin to try to save Sen. Johnson.”

“What’s really happening here is the exploitation of this corrupt system that Sen. Johnson loves,” Feingold said. “He has benefited far more than I have -- some three times -- from these outside groups in a way that is a sign again of the corporate domination of this country and the corporate domination of this Senate seat.”

Feingold also said he welcomes the perception that his race with Johnson is tightly contested, suggesting it could motivate his supporters.

“I want people to think it’s really close. I want people to work like we’re down by a couple points,” Feingold said.

The latest activity comes from Reform Wisconsin Fund, a super PAC funded by a group that is bankrolled almost entirely by Afton billionaire Diane Hendricks. The fund announced a $628,000 ad buy Tuesday that blasts Feingold for supporting President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee run by allies of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, announced Monday it is running $2 million in broadcast and cable ads in at least five Wisconsin markets touting Johnson. On Friday, the Democratic Senate Majority PAC announced a surprise late $2 million ad buy in Wisconsin to help put Feingold over the top. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also announced a six-figure ad buy Friday blasting Feingold for supporting Obama’s health care law.

On the campaign trail, Johnson is getting an assist this week from his Senate Republican colleagues, David Perdue, Lindsey Graham, and Joni Ernst, who are joining him at events throughout the state.

Feingold declined Tuesday to go after Comey for his letter to Congress, which said “the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant” and that it’s unclear how the long the review of the emails will take. Despite the letter’s lack of clarity, it rocked the presidential election and gave a lifeline to Republican Donald Trump, who consistently has trailed Clinton in polls.

“Obviously it’s incumbent on the FBI to provide as much information as they can because of the potential effect this could have on the presidential election,” Feingold said Tuesday.

Democrats and some Republicans, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Alberto Gonzales, U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush, have criticized Comey’s actions.

Baldwin, D-Madison, said Comey sent out “a vague letter saying basically he didn’t know what he was looking at.”

“He’s receiving a great amount of scrutiny right now,” Baldwin said. “I believe he’s a man of integrity, but I think he misjudged this one.”