Senate debate primer: Ron Johnson vs Russ Feingold

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (left), a Democrat, served three terms in the Senate before Republican Ron Johnson defeated him in 2010. They are in a rematch in 2016.
Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (left), a Democrat, served three terms in the Senate before Republican Ron Johnson defeated him in 2010. They are in a rematch in 2016.

Our fact checks on the rematch between U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and ex-U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold show the candidates have repeatedly made claims about each other.

In 2010, it was Feingold, a Democrat, who was the incumbent and Republican Johnson the political newcomer. This time, their roles are reversed -- but the intensity is the same.

Here’s a rundown of our latest Johnson-versus-Feingold and Feingold-versus-Johnson fact checks ahead of their two debates, which will be held in Green Bay on Oct. 14, 2016 and in Milwaukee four days later.

(In one case, we included a claim from a single candidate, pro-Johnson Super PAC.)

Claims by Johnson

Says Feingold broke his 1992 promise to always get the majority of funding from Wisconsin residents.

Our rating: True.

Feingold used the words "pledge" and "promise" in 1992 while asserting his grassroots campaign funding plan was for that Wisconsin Senate election as well as "for the future." Feingold has failed to keep his promise and claims he never said the pledge applied going forward, despite video evidence to the contrary.

Says that as a U.S. senator, Russ Feingold "voted against authorizing our military 11 separate times."

Our rating: Half True.

Feingold did vote 11 times against an annual bill that authorizes defense spending levels and covers policy issues such as gays in the military. But those were not votes to defund the military, given that appropriations bills provide funding. Moreover, lawmakers on both ends of the political spectrum, including ex-military conservative Republicans, have voted against the annual authorization bill over the years for a variety of reasons.

Says Feingold was the "only senator to vote against Homeland Security."

This claim was made by Let America Work, a single-candidate super PAC that supports Johnson.

Our rating: False.

Feingold was one of nine senators who voted against the 2002 law that created the Department of Homeland Security.

Claims by Feingold

Says Johnson "helped companies ship jobs overseas."

Our rating: False.

There are estimates that the largest of three deals that Johnson voted for, with South Korea, resulted in a loss of jobs in the United States. But those estimates are disputed, largely because of how difficult it is to isolate one cause for changes in employment. Moreover, the job-loss estimates do not state that any U.S. jobs were shipped overseas.

Says Johnson gave himself a $10 million "sweetheart corporate payout."

Our rating: Half True.

The amount is accurate, and Johnson did essentially give it to himself from his manufacturing company. But there’s no evidence to show the payment was unusual or out of line, as the tone and use of the "sweetheart" descriptor imply. An industry trade publication said the amount is reasonable given Johnson’s role and longevity with the company.

Says Johnson "voted five times for tax breaks that help companies ship Wisconsin jobs overseas."

Our rating: False.

Johnson voted against denying deductions associated with moving a business out of the country. But the law was mostly symbolic and these aren’t deductions specifically for moving jobs elsewhere. Meanwhile, amendments to the federal budget resolution on which Johnson voted had no practical effect, experts told us.

Before we close, two other recent checks that didn’t involve one candidate making a claim against the other.

Two other claims

Johnson says the U.S. Senate has "one manufacturer — that'd be me."

Our rating: Mostly True.

Based solely on the brief Senate biographies posted online, the statement was accurate. But like Johnson, David Perdue, R-Georgia, spent the bulk of his pre-Senate career in the manufacturing industry.

Feingold says the average student debt "coming out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is something like $28,000."

Our rating: Mostly True.

Feingold’s number was on target, but he failed to mention the average only included about half of all students -- those who borrowed money for their educational expenses. The other half left with no debt at all.

Go here to see all fact checks on statements by or about Johnson.

And here to see all fact checks on statements by or about Feingold.