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Feingold Still Fights for Reform

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“I’m worried about any games to do this indirectly, even when it’s prohibited directly,” Feingold said. He faulted Democrats, in particular, for endorsing new regulations while “trying to find out some way to get huge checks anyway.”

Democratic leaders “know darn well that [donors] are allowed to give far more” than $5,000 to super PACs, he said. “And they are attaching their name to that sort of effort. I worry about Democrats trying to have their cake and eat it, too.”

So far, Republican lawmakers and party officials have hung back from similar super PAC fundraising. But that might soon change.

GOP presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is backed by a super PAC that’s collected $12 million on his behalf. And organizers at the leading GOP-friendly outside groups American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies are mulling the fundraising role lawmakers might play.

“Obviously, we’re looking at that issue carefully,” American Crossroads President Steven Law said. “It’s a sensitive one. I think what Sen. Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi are doing is definitely at the [sharp] edge of where the law is. And we try to be somewhat conservative in the way that we operate. So we are taking a close look at the FEC’s guidance, and we are talking to campaign finance lawyers to assess what the right comfort factor is in doing that sort of thing.”

For his part, Feingold remains convinced that Democrats should embrace election reform as a campaign issue. He has sharply criticized Democrats who assailed secretive big-money groups last year, only to set up Democrat-friendly super PACs and politically active nonprofits to help candidates in 2012.

But Feingold, whose PAC has collected $1.4 million this year, has struck out to build his own grass-roots following. Feingold has been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), but he was coy about whether his PAC activism might morph into a campaign for public office: “I’m passionate about this issue, whether I run for office again, or never do again.”

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