Following big spending by a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Democratic primaries, most of the candidates supported by Washington’s biggest pro-Israel lobbying group won their midterm races.
United Democracy Project raised a total of $31 million through the 2022 election cycle. AIPAC itself contributed $8.5 million to the super PAC, which poured $26 million into key races, mostly in Democratic primaries.
Several Democratic and Republican megadonors contributed to United Democracy Project, including $1 million from Paul Singer, the Jewish founder of the investment firm Elliott Management. Israeli-American Haim Saban, founder of Saban Capital Group, also contributed $1 million. He also sponsors AIPAC’s Saban National Political Leadership Training Seminar, a series of semiannual seminars for college students to participate in three days of pro-Israel advocacy training.
Multiple Democratic primaries this election cycle saw big outside spending by United Democracy Project, including $4 million the super PAC spent opposing former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.
AIPAC described Edwards as a “detractor of the U.S.-Israel relationship who was heavily backed by some of the most vocal and persistent critics of the Jewish state” in a press release congratulating Glenn Ivey, who won the district’s Democratic primary.
United Democracy Project spent $1.7 million supporting Ivey’s primary bid. The super PAC did not spend outside money for Ivey during the general election, which he went on to win with more than 89% of the vote.
The super PAC also spent $2.1 million dollars to support the eventual nominee in the Democratic primary race in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District state Sen. Valerie Foushee. The primary field included Nida Allam, Durham County Commissioner and a progressive Muslim woman who has spoken out for Palestinian rights.
Foushee’s campaign manager told The News & Observer that she was one of many progressive candidates supported by AIPAC, adding the Jewish community has been a friend to the African-American community, especially during the civil rights movement.
United Democracy Project also spent money supporting Democrats in both primary and general races. One of those candidates was Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), who received an endorsement from the group, in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District. United Democracy Project poured $3.9 million into the primary race boosting Stevens and $341,000 attacking prominent Jewish Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.). The two incumbents faced off after Michigan lost one U.S. House seat following the 2020 census.
Stevens’ website states that she stands firm in her commitment to the U.S.-Israel alliance and will continue to support policies that strengthen it in Congress. Levin, on the other hand, has proposed legislation to advance a two-state solution in Israel and criticized the annexation of Palestinian territories.
United Democracy Project also spent $588,767 during the general election on ad buys supporting Democrat Kevin Mullin in California’s 15th Congressional District.
Candidates backed by the super PAC – including Mullin, Stevens, Foushee and Ivey – won their general elections, adding to AIPAC’s influence in Congress.
“We congratulate the elected and re-elected senators and representatives from both parties who will be joining an overwhelmingly pro-Israel Congress,” said AIPAC in a statement regarding the midterm elections.
AIPAC did not return OpenSecrets’ request for comment.
Summer Lee and Shri Thanedar win despite negative United Democracy Project spending
While many of the candidates United Democracy Project supported won, two candidates they spent millions of dollars opposing won their respective races for the House of Representatives.
The super PAC spent millions opposing progressive Democrats during the general election, including $3.2 million against Summer Lee who won the race for the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District. United Democracy Project spent $2 million opposing her during a contentious Democratic primary race – and $660,000 boosting her opponent, Steven Irwin – and an additional $1.2 million during the general election.
United Democracy Project spent $600,000 on a new television ad just two weeks before the election, according to AdImpact. The ad included clips of Lee speaking on defunding the police and abolishing prisons. Israel was not mentioned in the ad.
Once sworn in, Lee is expected to become a member of the “squad,” a group of progressive representatives including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who have been outspoken critics of Israel.
While Lee has not said much about Israel, she drew a comparison between George Zimmerman – the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin – with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in a Twitter thread from last year.
“This is a race where there is clear pro-Israel candidate and an anti-Israel candidate in Summer Lee,” United Democracy Project spokesperson Patrick Dorton told The Intercept. He also cited comments in the Twitter thread and her relationship with members of the “squad” when asked why the super PAC is opposing her.
The super PAC also spent $1.4 million opposing state Rep. Shri Thanedar’s primary campaign in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. Thanedar has a history of almost entirely self funding, including giving his campaign $6 million for the general election.
As a state representative, Thanedar co-sponsored a resolution in May 2021 urging Congress to halt aid to Israel in which the country was described as being responsible for “countless human rights violations” against Palestinians. But in January, shortly after announcing his campaign for Congress, he requested to be removed as co-sponsor.
J Street criticized AIPAC political spending during 2022 midterm
AIPAC’s endorsements of Republicans that have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election have been criticized by J Street, another pro-Israel lobbying group also advocating for a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), an AIPAC endorsee, has pushed the “great replacement theory” that White Americans are being replaced by immigrants.
Logan Bayroff, a spokesperson for J Street, stated that AIPAC’s actions make it clear they view pro-Israel progressive Democrats as a threat and Trump Republicans as allies as reported by the Guardian. J Street did not respond to a request for comment from OpenSecrets.
JStreetPAC, affiliated with J Street, also endorses candidates based only off of their support for a two-state solution, active US leadership to help end the conflict and opposition to the Boycott/Divestment/Sanction movement, a “Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality.”
J Street Action Fund, J Street’s super PAC arm, also spent over $1.8 million this election cycle. That total includes $700,000 opposing Stevens and $430,000 against Ivey, both of whom are supported by AIPAC.