GOP Megadonors Gave Millions to AIPAC’s Super PAC Ahead of Democratic Primaries

Bernie Marcus and Paul Singer each gave the United Democracy Project $1 million prior to several key Democratic races last month. The super PAC has so far spent nearly $12 million on seven primaries

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Billionaires Bernie Marcus, left, and Paul Singer.
Billionaires Bernie Marcus, left, and Paul Singer.Credit: Richard Drew, AP / John Minchillo, AP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Two of America’s most significant Republican megadonors donated $1 million apiece to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC last month, just before the organization spent heavily on several key Democratic primaries.

The pro-Israel group’s super PAC, known as the United Democracy Project, has spent nearly $11.8 million to date on seven primary races, $6.4 million of which has been used for funding attack ads against progressive Democratic candidates whom AIPAC regards as anti-Israel.

Bernie Marcus and Paul Singer donated their respective totals – only previously matched by Democratic megadonor Haim Saban – to the United Democracy Project on May 10 and 12, according to receipts released by the Federal Election Commission last week.

These dates fall in the week prior to the primary races in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, which attracted the first wave of unprecedented spending from the United Democracy Project. The Super PAC spent nearly $4.6 million on two races in North Carolina, where its backed candidates successfully won, and an additional $2.7 million in an unsuccessful bid to prevent progressive candidate Summer Lee from winning her Pennsylvania primary.

Both Marcus and Singer are Republican billionaires who have long been known for their Jewish philanthropic efforts and their support for GOP candidates and political action committees. They have steered their contributions to pro-Israel candidates while bankrolling efforts aimed at promoting Israel advocacy and opposing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Home Depot co-founder Marcus, 93, was among the first Republican Party mainstays to support Donald Trump. He donated $7 million to his 2016 campaign, saying that the “fate of the nation depends on sending him, and not Hillary Clinton, to the White House” – particularly due to a “leftward” shift of the Supreme Court had she been elected.

In recent years, Marcus has drawn criticism for backing Republican candidates who have compared Democrats to Nazis and bankrolling a campaign to place the Green Party on election ballots in order to take away votes from Democrats. He described attacks on Steve Bannon as a “shonda” (disgrace), defending Trump’s far-right adviser as a “passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel.”

Singer, 77, is a hedge fund manager who founded Elliott Management Corporation and has an estimated wealth of over $4 billion. He was among the most significant GOP donors to initially oppose Trump, endorsing his 2016 primary rivals. This led Bannon to attack him as a “globalist” over his support for LGBTQ rights. However, after Trump was elected, Singer donated significant amounts to a pro-Trump super PAC and the Republican National Committee.

The United Democracy Project currently has a 5-1 winning record in its inaugural campaign, for the November midterm elections. As well as the North Carolina and Pennsylvania races, it also backed Ohio Rep. Shontel Brown in her repeat primary against Nina Turner, which ended in another victory for the moderate lawmaker.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar speaking during a campaign event in San Antonio last month.Credit: Eric Gay/AP

The super PAC also played a significant role in helping incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas secure a narrow victory against his challenger Jessica Cisneros, which was only confirmed last week. The PAC spent more than $421,000 in his favor, but more than $1.4 million on attack ads against progressive attorney Cisneros.

Most recently, it successfully spent $515,000 against progressive Cristina Garcia in a California primary generally considered to be not competitive.

It is currently entrenching itself in an upcoming Democratic primary for Maryland’s 4th Congressional District between former Rep. Donna Edwards (backed by the progressive Jewish organization J Street) and Glenn Ivey. AIPAC’s super PAC has already spent nearly $1.9 million in attack ads against Edwards.

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia speaking at a news conference in Sacramento in January.Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Similar to the other races, the ads do not focus on Edwards’ approach to Israel, but highlight her allegedly poor record in service of her constituents when she previously served in Congress between 2008 and 2017.

Edwards, like the super PAC’s other targets, sharply rejected the ads as misleading, saying “my opponent’s got his dark-money super PAC. I’ve got grassroots support. And you know what? I like those odds.”

She added: “I have to tell you a thing about Black women that many of you know already: when you come for us, we don’t run. We double down and we get the job done.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended Edwards following the ads, calling her “one of the most effective members in Congress” who fought hard for her constituents. The super PAC argued that the ad “reminds voters what it was like last time [Edwards] represented them. As The Washington Post said, her office had ‘a poor reputation for constituent services’ and was ‘unresponsive to constituents who needed help.’”

Edwards’ critics point to her voting record on Israel during her years in Congress as a cause for concern — including not backing a 2009 resolution recognizing Israel’s right to self-defense against attacks from Gaza, not backing a 2011 resolution condemning Palestinian efforts to unilaterally declare an independent state, opposing a 2009 resolution condemning a UN report accusing Israel of war crimes, opposing a 2013 bill strengthening sanctions on Iran, and not backing 2012 legislation enhancing strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.

UDP spokesperson Patrick Dorton said in reply: "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 US-Israel relationship. We plan to be active in this race through Election Day."

“The U.S. is a hyperpartisan political environment. It is unique and special that leading Democrats like Haim Saban and leading Republican donors are dropping their partisan criteria to make sure that pro-Israel progressives get elected. It is incredibly hard to be a bipartisan organization in today’s politics. It’s significant that UDP has helped get progressives like Shontel Brown, Don Davis, Valerie Foushee, Robert Garcia elected to Congress as Democrats.

"Glenn Ivey is another example of a progressive Democrat that UDP supports. We’re going to look at other Democratic and Republican races to get involved in before Election Day. It’s difficult to have a bipartisan approach, but we’re committed to doing what it takes to support the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

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