If Russ Feingold has his way, there will be no outside spending in his U.S. Senate race against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson

Feingold, a Democrat who held the seat for three terms between 1993 and 2011, challenged Johnson, who ousted him in the conservative wave in 2010, to pledge to keep third-party cash out of the race. 

How Feingold would handle outside spending has been up for debate since before he announced his candidacy in May. In the 2010 race, he requested groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee not spend on his behalf and he declined to support the creation of a super PAC to promote his campaign.

But he lost by five points to Johnson, who made no such requests. And the role of money in politics has only been amplified since then.

When Feingold's group Progressives United suspended its activities shortly after his campaign announcement, the Johnson campaign questioned whether he would ask PACs to stay out of the race. 

"Sen. Ron Johnson and I agree that in this election Wisconsinites deserve a substantive debate on the issues, a desire that could be derailed by limitless anonymous spending and the influence of third party groups," Feingold said in a statement.

Feingold said the so-called "Badger Pledge" is the only way to "limit the tens of millions of dollars from outside super PACs and dark money groups on both sides of the aisle."

The agreement is modeled after the one struck by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her Republican opponent Scott Brown in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. 

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The pledge would prohibit any third-party organization from airing TV, radio or online ads considered to be an independent expenditure or issue advocacy for the duration of the campaign.

If a group were to run an advertisement deemed as beneficial to a candidate, that candidate's campaign would donate 50 percent of the ad's cost to the charity of his opponent's choice.

"As I've demonstrated in my career and as we've seen in elections across the country, curtailing the influence of money and third party groups in our elections requires bipartisan agreement," Feingold said.

The language throughout the pledge is based on the premise that both candidates will agree to it. If Johnson declines to sign it, Feingold will have to decide whether he wants to be the only candidate in the race not benefiting from outside spending.

Johnson campaign spokeswoman Betsy Ankney said the Feingold campaign sent the pledge after releasing it to the press, and the Johnson campaign needed time to review it.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.