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Neither Candidate Has Much to Say About Israel. So Why Is AIPAC Pouring Money Into This Race?


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said its top priority this cycle was to oust members of the progressive Squad. But the group has also been quietly pouring money into another Democratic primary: a competitive race for an open congressional seat in Maryland. AIPAC’s target? Former Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, who was in the Capitol during the January 6 attacks. 

Neither Dunn nor his rival, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, has been particularly outspoken in support of or against Israel, raising the question of why AIPAC is involved in the race at all. 

In the last month, AIPAC’s super PAC, United Democracy Project, has poured $4.1 million into the race to support Elfreth. Some 20 candidates are running for the open seat in Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District, where incumbent Rep. John Sarbanes announced in October he would not seek reelection. Dunn and Elfreth are leading fundraising.

In individual campaign contributions, Dunn has outraised Elfreth almost 4 to 1, with $4.5 million to her $1.4 million. But considering the outside boost from AIPAC, the group has given Elreth’s campaign a significant leg up: The pro-Israel group’s super PAC has spent almost as much as Dunn has raised. Elfreth has distanced herself from AIPAC’s support and said she was unaware that the group’s super PAC would be spending on her behalf. 

Elfreth’s campaign is also getting support from at least 12 donors who’ve given between $1,000 and $6,600 who have also given major support to far-right Republicans including former President Donald Trump, according to campaign filings reviewed by The Intercept. At least five of the donors are registered Republicans. 

More than 100 of Elfreth’s donors have also given significant amounts to AIPAC’s political action committees. In total, donors to Elfreth have given more than $2.8 million to those PACs. 

Dunn’s campaign released an ad last week criticizing Elfreth and claiming she’s aligned with far-right Republicans. Donors to Elfreth’s campaign include Larry Mizel, the former Colorado finance chair for Trump’s 2016 campaign; real estate developer Robert Sarver; former AIPAC President Edward Levy; and Daniel Kraft, president of Kraft Group International and the son of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Several of the donors have given to Republicans including Trump, Nikki Haley, Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla.; Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo.; and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

In a statement to The Intercept, Dunn criticized Elfreth’s campaign for accepting money from AIPAC’s super PAC and called on other candidates to condemn the outside spending, which he said was dark money “bankrolled by MAGA Republicans.” Taking the money in effect condones AIPAC’s actions, Dunn said, which include endorsing more than 100 candidates who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election

“Dark money was solicited into this race.”

“Any candidate who receives this support refuses to condemn their meddling in this race and essentially accepts the endorsement of an organization that has backed over 100 candidates and members of Congress who incited the rioters I fought on January 6th and tried to overthrow our democracy,” Dunn said. “Right after I announced my plan to protect our democracy from outside special interests who try to influence elections, dark money was solicited into this race.”

Elfreth’s campaign recently removed from its website a red box: a common campaign tactic used to encourage outside spending on races without violating rules prohibiting campaigns from coordinating with super PACs. The red box provides material that outside PACs can use in their communications. Elfreth had previously acknowledged the red box and said that a teacher’s union might use it to support her, according to the nonprofit news site Maryland Reporter

It’s not clear what drew AIPAC into the race. At a forum in April, both candidates offered support for efforts by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to condition aid to Israel. Dunn himself has been supportive of Israel and has said the country has a right to defend itself. He has supported sending U.S. funding to Israel and increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza. Dunn has not been outspoken against human rights abuses by Israel or U.S. military aid. And Elfreth is not running a particularly pro-Israel campaign. 

A United Democracy Project spokesperson told Jewish Insider the group was not concerned about Dunn’s position on Israel, but that it was spending on the race to ensure Elfreth won out over other candidates in the race it described as “anti-Israel.”

The super PAC said it was supporting Elfreth because of her position on other issues like the right to abortion, climate change, and domestic violence. Dunn is campaigning on a similar platform, emphasizing the right to abortion, strengthening voting rights, environmental protection, and working toward Medicare for All. 

United Democracy Project has not run negative ads against Dunn. 

Neither Elfreth’s campaign nor the United Democracy Project responded to a request for comment.

The post Neither Candidate Has Much to Say About Israel. So Why Is AIPAC Pouring Money Into This Race? appeared first on The Intercept.