Former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D) is still one of President Obama’s biggest critics when it comes to his decision to accept super PAC money. Only now he’s criticizing the president from his perch as a national co-chair of the Obama campaign.
Feingold was one of around 35 national co-chairs announced by Obama 2012 Wednesday morning. This came just days after he warned that Obama was “dancing with the devil” thanks to his decision to allow administration officials to help raise money for a super PAC supporting Obama’s reelection effort.
In an interview with TPM Wednesday afternoon, Feingold reiterated the warning — but said that his twin roles of helping the Obama campaign while criticizing some of its tactics were not inconsistent at all.
“The thing that confuses me is how people can wonder how, if you agree with someone 95 percent of the time and you are open about your disagreements with the person, that means that you wouldn’t want to support him,” Feingold said. “I appreciate the fact that we have a really intelligent and thoughtful President. And he understands that he and I disagree with things.”
Feingold said co-chairing the campaign was a “no brainer” despite his promise to keep up public criticisms of Obama on issues like civil liberties, the timetable for troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and, most prominently, the President’s cozier relationship to super PACs.
“It would come as no surprise to him that I would disagree with him on those issues even though I think he’s not only been a good president but I think by the end of this he’s going to be a great president, especially on international policy,” he told TPM.
“Obviously I want to co-chair his campaign: He’s the only chance we have to get Supreme Court justices that will help us undo Citizen’s United. He’s the only chance to have a president that I think conveys a positive image across America. I’m proud that he’s my president, and I have no hesitation to support him but I’m going to push him hard and push him publicly to do more on civil liberties, to get us out of Afghanistan and to stay away from super PACs. I don’t think those things are inconsistent at all.”
His criticisms of the Pesident on super PACs certainly haven’t dulled any since he put his name to Obama’s campaign.
“Anybody that plays with the super PACs is dancing with the devil. In addition to the White House cabinet people, we have people like Gingrich and Santorum actually attending their own super PAC events and pretending it’s independent,” Feingold told TPM. “That’s just a joke.”
He said Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina called him before the Obama made the announcement that cabinet officials and other prominent supporters — but not the President, vice president, First Lady or Dr. Jill Biden — would now help raise money for Priorities USA, the super PAC supporting Obama’s reelection.
“[Messina] said, ‘You’re not going to like this.’ I said, ‘You’re right I don’t like it, I’m going to say I don’t like it, but I still support the President,’” Feingold recalled. “I tried to persuade him to stay away from this.”
The super PAC decision is a point of weakness for Obama, Feingold said, that could undermine the good news the White House is enjoying on the economic and foreign policy front.
“I think the only thing that’s not going well for the President is the publicity he’s getting on the super PACs. Other than that, the economy’s going better, he’s got a good international reputation, he doesn’t need [the super PAC ties] to win the election,” Feingold said. “All it gets us is a bunch of corporate Democrats and a terrible policy outcome in the end so I’m going to try to work from the inside and the outside and try to persuade him to stay away from them. I think it just hurts him.”
Needless to say, Feingold won’t be one of those helping raise money for Priorities USA.
“I wouldn’t ever get near any super PAC stuff and I assume they would never ask me that,” he said. “It would be a very short conversation.”
But he is ready to campaign with the President in person wherever and whenever the Obama campaign wants him.
“I’m ready to serve,” Feingold said.