Republican Ron Johnson, an Oshkosh businessman, has cast himself as an outsider in his bid for U.S. Senate, branding Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold as a career politician. It’s a common approach for first-time candidates and may play well with voters fed up with Washington.
But in a television ad that began airing Sept. 8, 2010, Johnson’s branding iron burned a little hotter.
The ad features five unidentified people -- ordinary Wisconsin residents, according to the Johnson campaign -- all tossing a variety of criticisms toward Feingold, including this one:
"Russ Feingold is a career politician," a woman says. "Has not worked anywhere outside of politics."
Feingold himself has copped to the "career politician" charge, saying at the Milwaukee Press Club in August 2010 he had chosen public service as a career and was proud of it: "I make no apologies for it." But the second half of the statement is a new charge.
Is it true, as Johnson claims, Feingold has never had a job outside of politics?
Feingold, 57, won election to the state Senate in 1982 at age 29, and served there until 1992, when he was elected to the first of his three terms in the U.S. Senate. That’s 28 years as an elected official and, if you start at age 18, nearly three-quarters of his adult life.
But Feingold also was an attorney in Madison from 1979 to 1985, according to his U.S. Senate biography. He worked three years as a lawyer after graduating from Harvard Law School and another three years after being elected to the state Senate. Feingold worked for the firms of Foley & Lardner and La Follette Sinykin, which merged in 2000 with the Milwaukee-based firm Godfrey & Kahn.
Seems cut and dried, right?
Johnson campaign spokeswoman Sara Sendek acknowledged Feingold worked for the firms but said both "are involved in political work." She went on to say Feingold’s time "as a highly paid lawyer a quarter of a century ago hardly constitutes any sort of real world experience with a business or creating jobs."
However, Sendek could not provide any evidence to PolitiFact Wisconsin showing Feingold worked on political items at the firms.
We couldn’t find any, either.
According to the Feingold campaign, Feingold worked as an attorney on litigation and had business clients, a point supported by attorneys who worked at the two law firms at the time.
Neither firm could produce records showing the type of work Feingold did. But retired Foley & Lardner attorney Michael Laskis said Feingold did business litigation. And, according to Rick Bliss, managing partner of Godfrey & Kahn, attorneys from that firm who were at the old LaFollette firm when Feingold was there said Feingold was a trial lawyer.
In short, Feingold has spent most of his adult life in politics, and he embraces the idea of being a career politician. But Johnson says Feingold never did anything else -- a point the Feingold disputes to the point of asking the ad be taken down. We rate Johnson’s statement False.