money matters

UDP, DMFI focus on early summer primaries

DMFI spent $540,000 against freshman Rep. Marie Newman in Illinois, while UDP put $1.9 million against former Rep. Donna Edwards in Maryland

U.S. House of Representatives

Reps. Sean Casten (D-IL) and Marie Newman (D-IL)

After high-profile spending in a few early primary races that garnered headlines — and controversy — United Democracy Project and Democratic Majority for Israel PAC, both pro-Israel super PACs, have turned their focus to a few upcoming primaries, injecting significant capital into a new set of Democratic races.

Ahead of Tuesday’s primaries in Illinois, Democratic Majority for Israel has spent $540,000 opposing 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 launched by DMFI against Newman highlights the ongoing congressional ethics investigation into the first-term Chicago-area congresswoman, which is focused on allegations that she tried to keep a potential primary rival out of the race by offering him a highly paid job. That individual, who remains an advisor to Newman’s campaign, had also demanded broad control over her Middle East policy.

“Say no to a corrupt politician representing us,” the ad intones.

DMFI also sent a mailer touting Casten’s accomplishments in office.

Newman has been one of the most outspoken critics of Israel in the House during her first two years in office. She was one of eight Democrats to vote against supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system last year.

Next month’s Democratic primary in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District is emerging as the next major battleground between the United Democracy Project super PAC, an AIPAC-linked group, and J Street PAC. The two groups clashed in a number of high-profile races in May, with UDP spending $6.4 million in Democratic primaries that month, and more than $10 million total 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 ahead of 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 that a J Street spokesperson told JI have not yet gone live. Pro-Israel America and DMFI have also lent their support to Ivey, and AIPAC’s PAC has directed at least $160,000 in donations to him.

Edwards had a rocky relationship with the local Jewish and pro-Israel community during her previous tenure in office from 2008 to 2017, stemming from votes that some saw as anti-Israel, but the UDP adslike many of the group’s ads in other races — does not mention Israel. Rather, they portray her as ineffective and claim she fell short on constituent services when she last served in Congress.

“Donna Edwards was a member of the anti-Israel Squad before there even was a Squad. She has a track record of hostility to the U.S.-Israel relationship,” UDP spokesperson Patrick Dorton told JI. “We plan to be active in this race through Election Day.”

In an announcement of the group’s endorsement of Edwards, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said, “She was one of the first members of Congress to stand proudly and publicly with J Street and the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement, promoting more effective American leadership and a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. Now more than ever, we need her knowledgeable, experienced and principled voice in Congress.”

Edwards said the UDP ads “lied about my record.” The quotes critical of Edwards come primarily from Washington Post opinion articles.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has been endorsed 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 in Congress” and “fought hard for Prince George’s County — for jobs and investments in her community, to help constituents in need and to deliver results… we need Donna back in Congress to fight for our progressive values and to deliver for Maryland.”

UDP’s total fundraising reached $22 million last month, with a nearly $4.2 million haul in May, bolstered by $1 million from each of Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and hedge fund manager Paul Singer, and $250,000 from real estate investor Michael Hackman.

Marcus and Singer, both historically major GOP donors, joined media entrepreneur Haim Saban, a major Democratic donor who had previously given $1 million, as the largest individual donors to UDP.

“We have received donations from leading Democrats including Haim Sab[a]n, one of the largest donors in Democratic politics,” Dorton said. “The key point is that no UDP donor, including Democrats and independents, [is] giving for partisan reasons — they are all giving as pro-Israel donors who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship and oppose candidates who are detractors of Israel.”

Only one UDP-backed candidate, Pennsylvania’s Steve Irwin, has lost so far this cycle 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 backed primary winners Valerie Foushee and Don Davis in North Carolina, and Reps. Shontel Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX).

As for the group’s future plans: “We are assessing a significant number of races, including Republican primaries, to ensure that Congress has the broadest possible bipartisan pro-Israel coalition,” Dorton said.