Russ Feingold is running as a candidate for 2016 U.S. Senate, a position he previously served in from 1993 to 2011. Aside from campaign reform legislation, he is best remembered as the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act.
People still ask me why I was the only U.S. senator to vote against the Patriot Act — and Republicans are still attacking me for it. Just this week, a right-wing super PAC supporting Senator Ron Johnson called Let America Work started running ads attacking me for this vote.
The reason why I was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act has always been the same: I read the bill.
When I cast that vote, only six weeks had passed since the horrendous attacks on 9/11.
I initially wanted to vote for the bill. I agreed that, in order to protect our country, we needed to update our laws to account for new technologies, and I worked with the Republican attorney general, John Ashcroft, to try and find a way to do so while still protecting our civil liberties and constitutional rights. I was prepared to support an early version of the bill, which I felt met that test.
But then something awful happened: the Bush administration held secret meetings, took shortcuts in the committee process in the Senate, and presented a new version of the Patriot Act that couldn’t be changed. It was outrageous, undemocratic, and frankly, embarrassing.
This version of the bill was nothing more than an old wish list of the FBI that gave the federal government way too much power to spy on people without adequate oversight. There were provisions that I feared the government would exploit terribly — and we’ve since learned that’s exactly what happened.
This attack ad came from a super PAC whose sole mission is helping Ron Johnson. It is even being run by his former chief strategist. While Senator Johnson’s Washington consultants and super PACs may have a low opinion of Wisconsinites, I don’t. Trying to turn important issues of security and civil liberties into simplistic attack ads on my Patriot Act vote will not work.
Politics was the last thing on my mind when I voted “no.” Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. were furious with me for my vote.
Here in Wisconsin, we know that national security and civil liberties are not mutually exclusive, and both should be beyond partisan politics. Yet, Senator Johnson and his allies think the only way to win is by using fear and backing that up with super PAC attack ads. This is what we face over the next seven months of this campaign.
But if Senator Johnson and his super PACs were listening to the people of Wisconsin, they would know one thing: it won’t work.
We’re not going to back down. We’re going to fight for what’s right.
Thanks for standing with me.