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Thursday, June 2, 2016

 8:51 AM 

Feingold slams Johnson over 'dark money,' Tomah VA

Dem Russ Feingold Wednesday hit U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on "dark money" ads and the Oshkosh Republican's role in the Tomah VA prescription drug scandal.

Feingold, speaking to reporters after a rally at the Bartell Theatre in Madison, rejected criticism he has gone back on his word not to accept help from so-called dark money groups. He said he doesn't have a super PAC, but Johnson has had such groups "pay for his campaigns, for his ads."

Feingold said the average contribution to his campaign is $50, and 96 percent of the contributions are for $100 or less.

That is a "huge contrast" to Johnson's campaign, Feingold said.

"When you see millions of dollars' worth of ads from the Koch brothers and others," he said, "that is having dark money pay for your campaign."

Feingold, though, acknowledged there are third-party groups running ads against Johnson. But he said they're not super PACs.

"These are independent groups," Feingold said, "and I frankly don't like the system and intend to overturn it."

Feingold also went after Johnson on the Tomah VA report.

The Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, chaired by Johnson, held a field hearing in Tomah Tuesday to discuss the report and question VA leaders about the investigation into prescriptions at the hospital.

Feingold said he immediately noticed one thing about the report.

"I'm not mentioned anywhere," he said. "And that's because it is completely false that the Koch brothers and others have run an ad suggesting that somehow we had something to do with it."

He called the ads hitting him over Tomah "shameful" and a clear indication Johnson will "cynically try to exploit the death of a veteran to try to save his political neck." In 2014, Jason Simcakoski, a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran, died from a drug overdose while at the hospital.

A super PAC created by the Koch brothers has attacked Feingold on the issue in a TV ad, and Feingold has knocked Johnson on it in a spot of his own.

VA officials at the hearing Tuesday took responsibility, Feingold said, but Johnson never did.

"And he should tell them to not run these ads," Feingold said. "He says, 'Well, it's free speech.' But it also is free speech to tell somebody they should stop doing something."

Johnson's campaign countered Feingold for his "hypocrisy" on dark-money ads, including a new spot out from an abortion rights group.

Johnson's campaign has also been critical of Feingold for an event he did last month with the League of Conservation Voters, which has run ads targeting the GOP incumbent.

"Senator Feingold continues to say one thing and do another. After repeatedly railing against 'dark money' he's gladly showing his face with a group whose dark money arm is fueling his bid to claw his way back to Washington," said Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger. "Senator Feingold apparently doesn't care that this Washington D.C. group's job-killing agenda would hurt Wisconsin farmers and families -- he's only concerned about his own political ambition."

Reisinger also rejected Feingold's call on the Tomah ads, noting Johnson has said he is responsible for his own words "and so is everyone else."

Reisinger also focused on Johnson's response to the Tomah VA scandal in response to Feingold's criticism over the ads. He said Johnson took "immediate and effective action" once he became aware of the tragedies. That includes the investigation that resulted in the report released Tuesday.

"By shining the light of day on Tomah, those responsible have been held accountable -- they are no longer in a position to do further harm to veterans. Ron has done his job," Reisinger said. "It is Senator Feingold who is politicizing tragedies."

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