After high-profile spending in some early primaries that made headlines — and controversy — the United Democracy Project and the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC, both pro-Israel super-PACs, have turned their focus to some upcoming primaries and invested significant capital in a invested new set of democratic races.
Ahead of Tuesday’s Illinois primary, the Democratic Majority for Israel spent $540,000 fighting Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) and supporting Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL). The group also spent $157,000 on digital ads and mailers supporting Chicago City Council member Gilbert Villegas and opposing Illinois House member Delia Ramirez.
An ad placed against Newman by DMFI highlights ongoing congressional ethics investigations into the Chicago-area first-term congresswoman, which focuses on allegations that she tried to keep a potential key competitor out of the running by giving him a high-paying one job offered. This person, who remains an adviser to Newman’s campaign, had also called for comprehensive scrutiny of her Middle East policies.
“Say no to a corrupt politician who represents us,” the ad reads.
DMFI also sent out a mailer touting Casten’s achievements in office.
Newman was one of Israel’s most outspoken critics in the House of Representatives during her first two years in office. She was one of eight Democrats who voted last year against additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
Next month’s Democratic primary in Maryland’s 4th congressional district is shaping up to be the next major battleground between the United Democracy Project’s Super PAC, an AIPAC-affiliated group, and the J Street PAC. The two groups clashed in May in a series of high-profile races, with UDP spending $6.4 million on Democratic primary campaigns that month and more than $10 million overall this year.
In Maryland, former prosecutor Glenn Ivey — backed by AIPAC, Pro-Israel America and DMFI — faces J Street-backed former Rep. Donna Edwards.
As of June 23 – nearly a month before the July 19 primary – UDP had spent nearly $1.9 million on ads targeting Edwards. J Street is spending $100,000 on digital ads supporting Edwards, a J Street spokesperson said JI has not yet gone live. Pro-Israel America and DMFI have also supported Ivey, and AIPAC’s PAC has directed him at least $160,000 in donations.
Edwards had a rocky relationship with the local Jewish and pro-Israel community during her previous tenure from 2008 to 2017, due to voices some saw as anti-Israel but the UDP ads – like many of the group’s ads in others Races – does not mention Israel. Rather, they portray her as ineffective and claim that she fell short in the constituent services during her last term in Congress.
“Donna Edwards was a member of the anti-Israel force before there was a force. It has a track record of hostility toward US-Israel relations,” UDP spokesman Patrick Dorton told JI. “We plan to be active in this race until Election Day.”
In an announcement of the group’s support of Edwards, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said, “She was one of the first members of Congress to proudly and publicly stand with J Street and the pro-Israel and pro-peace movement and more promoted effective American leadership and a brighter future for Israelis and Palestinians. We need her knowledgeable, experienced and principled voice in Congress now more than ever.”
Edwards said the UDP ads “lied about my record”. The quotes critical of Edwards are primarily from Washington Post opinion article.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), supported by AIPAC, defended Edwards’ record in office.
In a video shared by Edwards’ campaign, Pelosi said that Edwards was “one of the most effective members of Congress” and “fought hard for Prince George’s County — for jobs and investment in their community, to help constituents in need, and to deliver results…us.” need Donna back in Congress to fight for our progressive values and make a difference for Maryland.”
UDP’s total fundraising reached $22 million last month, with nearly $4.2 million in May, supported by $1 million each from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and hedge fund manager Paul Singer, and $250,000 dollars from real estate investor Michael Hackman.
Marcus and Singer, both historically significant GOP donors, joined media entrepreneur Haim Saban, a major Democratic donor who had previously donated $1 million, as the largest single donors to UDP.
“We have received donations from leading Democrats including Haim Sab[a]n, one of the biggest donors in Democratic politics,” Dorton said. “The key point is that no UDP donor, including Democrats and Independents, [is] Contributions for partisan reasons – they all donate as pro-Israel donors who care about US-Israel relations and oppose the candidates who slander Israel.”
Only one UDP-backed candidate, Pennsylvania’s Steve Irwin, has lost this cycle so far in a race for the state’s 12th congressional district in Pittsburgh; He was defeated by Summer Lee, a progressive backed by J Street. Elsewhere, UDP has endorsed grand prize winners Valerie Foushee and Don Davis in North Carolina, as well as Reps Shontel Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX).
On the group’s future plans, “We are reviewing a significant number of elections, including Republican primaries, to ensure Congress has the broadest possible bipartisan pro-Israel coalition,” Dorton said.