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New Coalition Aims To Defend ‘Squad’ and Other Progressives Targeted by AIPAC

The overwhelming influence of corporate Super PACs on our elections has expanded the gap between voters and their elected leaders into a canyon. Rejecting AIPAC is a crucial step in putting voters back at the center of our democracy.

Rep. Summer Lee speaks at a press conference announcing a House resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Among Squad members, Lee will be the first to compete in a Democratic primary, which Pennsylvania holds in April, (ALLISON BAILEY/NURPHOTO/AP)

A coalition has formed to protect progressive lawmakers who have called for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war from a torrent of political spending from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its affiliated entities. 

The “Reject AIPAC” coalition announced Monday that it is planning a seven-figure campaign of paid media and field organizing to defend members of Congress, including lawmakers in the “Squad,” who have taken pro-Palestinian stances that have put them in the pro-Israel lobby’s crosshairs. 

“We have watched as AIPAC has done everything it can to silence growing dissent in Congress against [Israel Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s assault on Gaza — which has killed over 31,000 Palestinians — even as Democratic voters overwhelmingly support a ceasefire and oppose sending more blank checks to the Israeli military,” the coalition said in a statement.

The Israel-Hamas war and the Biden administration’s handling of it has become an issue on the political left, with those in the progressive wing of the party staking out pro-Palestinian positions and more moderate Democrats voicing stronger support for Israel, a longtime U.S. ally. After Hamas’ brutal October 7 attack on Israeli civilians, members of the Squad were among the earliest in Congress to call for a cease-fire as Israel launched its counter assault on Hamas militants in the densely populated Gaza Strip. 

While AIPAC is a longtime player in Washington, its affiliated super PAC, United Democracy Project, launched in late 2021, enabling the organization to impact elections more directly. In the 2022 midterms, United Democracy Project spent $26 million targeting or defending candidates, all of them Democrats, according to campaign finance filings analyzed by the government transparency watchdog group OpenSecrets. The vast majority of the money was spent in Democratic primaries to boost candidates who took stronger stances supporting Israel. 

The total political spending of AIPAC-affiliated entities in the 2024 cycle is expected to balloon to as much as $100 million, according to multiple news reports. High on the organization’s agenda are U.S. House races, where smaller sums are typically raised and spent than in statewide races. 

“The overwhelming influence of corporate Super PACs on our democracy and elections has expanded the gap between voters and their elected leaders into a canyon that has been exploited by every special interest and corporate lobby. Rejecting AIPAC is a crucial step in putting voters back at the center of our democracy,” the Reject AIPAC coalition said in a statement. 

The coalition includes Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, the IfNotNow Movement, the Sunrise Movement, Democratic Socialists of America, Our Revolution, Gen-Z for Change, and the Green New Deal Network.

Reject AIPAC is also circulating a pledge to members of Congress that asks them to affirm their support for Palestinian rights and reject AIPAC support; the names of those who sign in the first round will be released later this month. 

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One of the first primaries that United Democracy Project spent money in this year was for the Orange County, California-area seat held by Rep. Katie Porter, who gave it up to run for the U.S. Senate. The super PAC spent more than $4.5 million boosting a Democratic opponent of California state Sen. Dave Min, who came in second place in the nonpartisan, top-two race behind a Republican. There was little daylight between the two Democrats’ public stances on Israel. United Democracy Project ran ads highlighting Min’s arrest last year for driving under the influence. It is unclear what impact these ads will have on the general election in the swing district, which Porter flipped for Democrats in 2018, and which was won by President Joe Biden. 

One criticism from members of the Reject AIPAC coalition is that United Democracy Project is usually opposing candidates of color. Another is that the organization raises money from high-profile Republicans to impact Democratic primaries — and that some of their advertising against Democrats in swing districts could follow the candidates to the general election and diminish their chances against Republican opponents.

Over the past six months, top donors to United Democracy Project included WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, financier Jonathon Jacobson, former Home Depot CEO Bernie Marcus, an entity affiliated with New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, financier Paul Singer and private equity CEO Marc Rowan. All are high-profile GOP donors, most of whom have supported former President Donald Trump or his agenda. 

An AIPAC spokesperson said that Americans from both parties “overwhelmingly” back candidates who will advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. 

“Already in this election year, pro-Israel candidates have been immensely successful in primaries, and we were proud to help elect Democrats and Republicans who stand with the Jewish state,” AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told The 19th.

“On Super Tuesday alone, 79 candidates endorsed by AIPAC won their primaries.  We are continuing to evaluate races that involve detractors of the US-Israel relationship,” he added.

In 2022, United Democracy Project opposed now “Squad” member Rep. Summer Lee of Pennsylvania during both her primary and general elections. The super PAC spent more than $2 million opposing her during the primary, and Lee, a progressive Black woman, won by fewer than 1,000 votes against a political novice. Lee handily won the general election in the Pittsburgh-area district. 

Among the Squad members, Lee, who has called for a cease-fire in Gaza, will be the first to compete in a Democratic primary, which Pennsylvania holds in April. AIPAC and United Democracy Project are expected to target her in the race. During the last quarter of 2023, Lee’s campaign brought in nearly $1 million. 

Amanda Becker is The 19th's Washington correspondent. She has covered the U.S. Congress, the White House and elections for more than a decade. Becker previously worked at Reuters and CQ Roll Call. Her work has appeared in publications including The Washington Post, The New Republic and Glamour magazine. Her political coverage has also been broadcast on National Public Radio.

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