AIPAC Launches PACs, Entering Political Campaign Space for First Time

Super PAC will allow Washington's most influential pro-Israel lobby to spend unlimited funds to campaign for or against candidates

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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People arrive to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, 2013.
People arrive to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, 2013.Credit: AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, announced on Thursday that it was launching two separate political action committees, officially entering the political campaign space for the first time.

AIPAC President Betsy Berns Korn said AIPAC was launching a bipartisan federal PAC and a super PAC "to make us more effective in fulfilling our mission in the current political environment."

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The AIPAC PAC will, according to Korn, highlight and support current pro-Israel members of Congress from both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as congressional candidates.

AIPAC has historically attempted to remain apolitical and limit its work to lobbying efforts in Washington, though a growing number of Jewish organizations on both sides of the aisle have challenged its prominence and its policies. J Street, for example, formed in 2008 the first-ever PAC explicitly dedicated to promoting American leadership in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not only has it endorsed Democratic candidates, it has also helped move candidates and lawmakers in a leftward direction.

The Democratic Majority for Israel, founded by veteran pollster Mark Mellman nearly three years ago to counteract the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, also has a PAC where it has notably – and at times controversially – gotten involved in Democratic primary campaigns. This year's primary for an Ohio House seat between Shontel Brown and Nina Turner, an outspoken progressive critic of Israel, was likely a particular point of focus for AIPAC when it considered whether to take this step. Turner was the front-runner for the majority of the campaign, and Brown only emerged victorious after a significant investment from DMFI and the similarly young Pro-Israel America PAC

Super PACs cannot directly contribute to politicians, but can solicit and spend unlimited sums to campaign for or against particular candidates. They also do not need to immediately report sources of funding. The federal PAC, meanwhile, has more strict limits and guidances on the sort of involvement it can undertake in campaigns.

Such developments involving AIPAC are not limited to the Democratic Party, however. Last month, former U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley slammed AIPAC at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference, saying it overemphasizes bipartisanship in outreach to Democrats — particularly ones who support the Iran nuclear deal. The RJC, too, has a PAC and a super PAC that has raised and spent tens of millions of dollars on Republican candidates over the past several election cycles.

"Throughout AIPAC's history, the Board of Directors has consistently adjusted our political strategy to ensure we could remain successful in an ever-changing Washington," Korn said, noting the political environment in Washington has been undergoing what she termed profound change.

"Hyper-partisanship, high congressional turnover, and the exponential growth in the cost of campaigns now dominate the landscape. As such, the Board has decided to introduce these two new tools," Korn added.

Following AIPAC's announcement, J Street called on all fellow organizations with affiliated PACs to commit to not supporting Republican candidates who have endorsed conspiracy theories about the 2020 election results.

“With the future of American democracy in real peril and the vast majority of American Jews deeply concerned about the mounting threat from former President Trump and his extremist political movement, it’s critical that groups representing the pro-Israel and Jewish communities do absolutely all that we can to help defend free and fair elections and democratic institutions,” said J Street’s President Jeremy Ben-Ami.

“As AIPAC announces that it will create a new federal PAC and super PAC, and other pro-Israel PACs begin to make their endorsements for the 2022 cycle, we challenge them to join us in taking a 'Pro-Democracy Pledge,'" he added.

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