For Feingold, “LegitAction” Is One Way to Stave Off Threats to Democracy

For Feingold, “LegitAction” Is One Way to Stave Off Threats to Democracy

Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has decided to jump back into the national spotlight with LegitAction, a new online political advocacy group that plans to help local grassroots organizations raise their public profiles.

Relying on social media as well as traditional platforms like newspapers, the Wisconsin Democrat founded LegitAction in March to educate the public about threats to “four pillars” of American democracy: the Supreme Court, presidential elections, voting rights, and campaign-finance reform. Feingold does not want to diminish the importance of resisting President Trump on a daily basis, but he worries that these four pillars of democracy are vulnerable to attack as long as Americans are distracted by Trump’s daily outrages. The group is “a good connector organization” that can work with smaller groups to “broaden” their reach, objectives, and accomplishments, says Feingold, who recently lost a close November comeback bid against Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who beat him in 2010. 

Supporting the Senate Democrats’ filibuster of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is high on LegitAction’s list of initial moves. Feingold says his nomination undermines the legitimacy of the high court. “It is simply illegitimate because it was Barack Obama’s appointment, not Donald Trump’s,” Feingold tells The American Prospect. “This president doesn’t have a right to fill this seat at all.”

The group would like to see a number of electoral reforms. With two of the past three presidents reaching the White House without winning the popular vote, Feingold views the Electoral College as an anachronistic embarrassment that undermines popular sovereignty. He argues that it is time to “either pass a constitutional amendment to get rid of it, or to assist the efforts to create a compact of the states” through a National Popular Vote initiative. Under this plan, when the total number of electoral votes in states whose legislatures have ratified the pledge reaches 270, each state must assign their electoral votes to the candidate that wins the nationwide popular vote. Eleven states with a combined total of 165 electoral votes have already signed on, pushing the measure 60 percent of the way toward the mark that will trigger the compact.

Threats to voting rights have mushroomed in recent years. Gerrymandering, voter-ID laws that disproportionately affect minorities, and preventing ex-felons from voting even after they are released from jail all hamper the right to vote in many states.

Campaign-finance reform, of course, was Feingold’s signature issue in the Senate. The 2002 law that bears his name, the McCain-Feingold Act (officially, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) banned soft-money donations to national candidates and parties. However, it fueled the rise of nonprofit “527” organizations—groups that are free to take large gifts from wealthy individual donors, labor unions, and corporations, and are not subject to spending limits. (These organizations cannot make donations to federal candidates, however.) Feingold argues that the Citizens United decision, which upended the 2002 reforms, has “gutted our campaign-finance system,” and has been “brutally exploited to allow unlimited money and non-disclosure.”

LegitAction plans to voluntarily disclose its contributors’ names, even though as a 501c(4) nonprofit, it is not legally required to do so. “We are more than happy to have everyone know who is supporting us, and we’re proud of the people that support us,” Feingold says. “We’re not worried about hiding them like the right-wingers.”

Feingold, who will not accept a salary for his work on behalf of the group, intends to serve as LegitAction’s spokesman, addressing these issues through speaking engagements and op-ed articles. He served in the Senate from 1993 to 2011 and currently teaches at Stanford University Law School’s Law and Policy Lab.