A Spanish-language radio ad from a controversial political group accuses Russ Feingold of not wanting Hispanic babies to be born, in an effort to persuade Latino voters to support Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in November.
"I have a question for Feingold. Why should you have my vote if you don’t want our babies?" a woman asks in an ad airing on Spanish-language and gospel radio stations in the Milwaukee and Racine markets.
The ad opens with a man asking whether it matters to Feingold that "Hispanic babies are twice as likely to be aborted as white babies."
The man later says the message he hears from the Democratic former senator is, "To improve our lives, abort our future."
"We don’t need to kill our future, we need to have hope for our future and know that opportunities will triumph and grow," the man says. "Ron Johnson constructed business and created more than 100 jobs. We need jobs, not abortions."
Feingold has been endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for Women in the 2016 election.
"I fully support women’s reproductive rights and access to quality affordable health care," Feingold said at the time of those endorsements.
While reproductive rights groups laud Feingold's record, it's earned him criticism from anti-abortion advocates, particularly for his vote against banning so-called partial-birth abortions — referred to medically as intact dilation and extraction — in 2003. The ban would have only allowed an exception if the mother's life was in danger, but Feingold supported including an exception for the mother's health.
The new ad is similar to others run in past campaigns by the Iowa-based America's PAC, which is spending $66,000 to air the spot in southeastern Wisconsin, according to FEC records.
The group used similar language to encourage black and Latino voters to support Gov. Scott Walker in his 2014 campaign against Democrat Mary Burke.
A spokeswoman for Feingold's campaign called the ad an "insult to Wisconsin's women" and called on Johnson to disavow the "racist, inflammatory and exploitative insults being used on his behalf."
"By remaining silent and letting billionaires and super PACs campaign for him, Sen. Johnson is telling Wisconsin’s women and families across this state that their reproductive rights and economic opportunity are on the chopping block so long as it benefits his re-election bid," said Feingold press secretary Amelia Penniman. "He needs to disavow this ad and the big-money donors backing it, and join Russ in signing the Badger Pledge to keep these super PAC attacks out of Wisconsin."
Johnson's campaign said Feingold's criticisms of dark money are hypocritical, noting that the Democrat has not disavowed a super PAC that aims to support his campaign, nor has he denounced spending from groups including the League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, American Bridge and VoteVets.Org.
"When is Senator Feingold going to disavow the millions of dollars in misleading attack ads that have been run by far-left Washington D.C. outside groups on his behalf?" said Johnson spokesman Brian Reisinger. "Ron takes responsibility for his own words and his own actions — Senator Feingold, meanwhile, continues to say one thing and do another. After 34 years as a career politician, it’s once again clear — Senator Feingold has become everything people hate about politics."
Both Feingold and Johnson's campaigns have benefited from outside spending in the race, but advertising in 2016 from outside groups stacks up heavily in Johnson's favor, including spots from Americans for Prosperity and the Let America Work super PAC. Most of the outside spending in Feingold's favor occurred in 2015.
America's PAC spokesman Tom Donelson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his group's ad, but in the past has said he believes Republicans can pick up votes from black and Latino voters who tend to be conservative on social issues.
"The purpose of our strategy is to break the left’s stranglehold over minorities," Donelson wrote in February 2015. "While it may seem contradicting for conservative groups who reject group identity politics to appeal to minority voters on minority media, our long term goal is to not just peel off enough votes to win elections but to add significant numbers of minorities to the conservative coalition while emphasizing individual rights over group identity. The short term agenda is to peel off those votes that can provide the difference in winning close elections."
The group has taken heat from both Democrats and Republicans in previous elections. A 2000 school choice ad was called "racist or race-baiting in intent" by the Republican National Committee and denounced as "inappropriate" by George W. Bush's presidential campaign. The ad featured a white parent complaining that his child's public school was "a bit more diversity" than he could handle.
Some of the PAC's most controversial ads were the work of its late founder Richard Nadler, who died in 2009. Donelson said in 2014 that while the language of the ads has been toned down since then, the message remains the same.
Records show the group's largest funder is Richard Uihlein, CEO of the Uline shipping supply company headquartered in Pleasant Prairie.
Uihlein, a major tea party and GOP donor throughout the country, has given America's PAC more than $3 million since the 2012 election. He gave the group $500,000 of the $520,000 it raised last year.