Israel lobby network and coordinated PACs that finance
managing editor at The Washington Report on Middle East
Affairs. She earned her B.A. in English at Reed College
and has a graduate
diploma in Middle East Studies from the American
University in Cairo. She is an expert on the Israel
lobby and pro-Israel political action committees (PACs).
She co-edited Seeing the Light: Personal Encounters With
the Middle East and Islam, and Donald Neff’s 50 Years of
Israel, both compilations of feature articles from
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. In addition to
her editorial duties, she has written special reports on
Israel and Palestine, and has contributed articles to
special issues of the Washington Report on Iran,
Tunisia, Cyprus and Libya.
McMahon. I’m the managing editor of the Washington
Report on Middle East Affairs, and I’m going to give you
a slightly different picture about the United States
Congress. Our magazine has been covering pro-Israel
political action committees, or PACs, since 1986. Over
the years I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people asking
how much money their congressperson got from AIPAC—the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
immediately tell them that AIPAC ITSELF DOES NOT MAKE
And I think
it’s very important not to accuse AIPAC of doing
something it can truthfully deny, because that makes it
too easy for AIPAC to deflect the argument and let
itself off the hook.
This is not
to say, however, that AIPAC has nothing to do with
campaign contributions—and that’s something I’ll get to
when we published Stealth PACs, written by our executive
editor, the late Richard H. Curtiss, there were about
128 pro-Israel PACs. Now there are around 30.
the Center for Responsive Politics, whose website,
opensecrets.org, I highly recommend, 31 pro-Israel PACs
contributed a total of just under $3 million to
congressional candidates in 2012. And I’m using 2012
figures because, since the election is over, all the
numbers are in, while this year’s election is still a
“work in progress” as far as campaign contributions are
And as you
can see on this chart, these PACs gave almost 60% of
their contributions to Democrats in 2012—so it is
definitely not the case that only Republicans are eager
to do Israel’s bidding. All but 1 pro-Israel PAC gave to
Democrats, and all but 6 to Republicans.
PACs have several interesting characteristics.
all, in their filings with the FEC, the Federal
Election Commission, they all list themselves as
“unaffiliated.” Now most PACs have no problem
identifying their affiliation or industry–for example,
the 7 PACs under the National Assn. of Realtors
umbrella–which Open Secrets.org lists as the top PAC
donating in 2012—all list their industry as “real estate
And each of
the 7 PACs includes “Association of Realtors” in its
I’m going to
show you the names of the 31 pro-Israel PACs that
OpenSecrets has listed. What’s very interesting about
them is that all but 4 of them have very innocuous—one
might even say misleading—names. Those 4 exceptions are
the Word Alliance for Israel, the Republican Jewish
Coalition, the National Jewish Democratic Council, and
Allies for Israel.
means is that even the most conscientious voter who
knows the name of every contributor to a candidate’s
campaign might not know that the candidate is receiving
money from PACs that advance the interests of a foreign
characteristic of pro-Israel PACs is that they prefer to
give to reliable incumbents rather than challengers,
regardless of the candidate’s party or religion. They
also give priority to members of congressional
committees responsible for issues of concern to
Israel—such as foreign affairs, armed forces, or budget.
like to extend their largesse to members of Congress in
leadership positions. For example, House Minority Whip
Steny Hoyer’s take from pro-Israel PACs used to be fair
to middling, but as he climbed the leadership ladder,
his contributions increased—to the point where he’s now
received a total of more than a quarter of a million
tactic favored by pro-Israel PACs is called “bundling.”
That’s when a PAC collects checks from individual donors
and hands them en masse to a favored candidate. This way
the candidate has no doubt about the source of the
contributions, but the PAC is not required to disclose
them to the FEC.
began to become popular around 1994, when talk of
campaign finance reform was in the air. It’s a way to
minimize the public impact of PAC contributions. So most
traditional pro-Israel PACs use bundling as a way to
disguise the full extent of their financial involvement.
OpenSecrets, the pro-Israel NorPAC, the number 5
contributor to Sen. Mark Kirk’s 2010 campaign, gave him
$3,804; but individuals associated with that PAC ponied
up more than $58,000! Similarly, Kirk received $114,904
from pro-Israel PACS, according to OpenSecrets, but
nearly 5 times that much from pro-Israel individuals. So
PAC contributions, thanks to bundling, are just the tip
of the iceberg.
striking about these 30-odd pro-Israel PACs, however, is
their pattern of giving.
read the FEC filings of a couple of them, it’s almost
completely predictable who the other ones will be giving
to. And I can personally attest to this, because I have
gone through these pages of FEC reports.
these PACs operate in lockstep to such an extent that
some of the PACs that nominally represent a certain
state don’t give to a single candidate from that state.
here is the Washington Report’s list of the top 10
recipients of pro-Israel PAC contributions in 2012.
You can see
that Steny Hoyer was number 4 in the House, with
$31,750, and that Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland, with
$55,680, was number 4 in the Senate. Neither, by the
way, faced a tight re-election campaign.
would assume that some of the thousands of dollars these
two men got came from the Maryland Association for
Concerned Citizens—the pro-Israel PAC based in their
home state. But here are the House candidates the
Maryland PAC gave to 2012:
is nowhere to be found.
one searches in vain for Ben Cardin among the Senate
candidates who received money from this particular
pro-Israel PAC. Instead, the Maryland Association for
Concerned Citizens gave to candidates as far away as
Nevada, North Dakota and California—but to not a single
candidate in Maryland! This seems rather curious, to say
the least, leading one to wonder how these pro-Israel
PACs choose their beneficiaries.
WHERE AIPAC COMES IN.
leaked to “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post in 1998
reveals that AIPAC exercises a high degree of oversight
and coordination over the smaller, money-giving PACs.
written by AIPAC’s assistant director of political
affairs, Elizabeth Schrayer, instructs a subordinate to
pressure several PACs to donate to specific candidates.
The first item—it’s a little hard to read, so I’ll read
it to you—says: “ICEPAC [another descriptive pro-Israel
PAC name!] has done nothing in the CO, LA and MO race.
They have given $500 to Evans and Daschle – on 6/30/86
they had $11,048. Try for 1,000 to Bond, Moore, Evans,
Daschle, & Reid.”
So this memo
makes clear that the recipients of pro-Israel PAC
contributions are not necessarily selected by the
individual PACs making those contributions.
“smoking gun memo,” however, the Federal Election
Commission classifies AIPAC as a “membership
organization,” rather than a political committee.
this means is that AIPAC does not have to reveal its
sources of income or its expenditures.
Now, each of
these 30 pro-Israel PACs that donate to congressional
candidates must adhere to FEC regulations, which limit
campaign contributions from PACs to $10,000 per
candidate per election: $5,000 for the primary election
and another $5,000 for the general election in November.
But if there
are 30 “unaffiliated” PACs all giving to the same
candidate, that’s a potential haul of $300,000—not
$10,000—per candidate. Indeed, for his first Senate race
in 1998—the year of the AIPAC memo—Tom Daschle, who went
on to become Senate majority leader, received more than
$260,000 in pro-Israel PAC contributions. In 2010 Mark
Kirk received over $100,000—more than any other House or
Senate candidate that year. And as we’ve seen, that does
not include contributions from pro-Israel individuals.
So not only
does the favored candidate benefit, but because it’s
broken up into smaller components, again the extent of
the lobby’s influence on American elections is hidden.
there is no pro-Israel PAC listed as being among the
2010 [should be 2012] top 10 PAC contributors by the
Center for Responsible Politics—Responsive Politics, I’m
year pro-Israel PACs contributed nearly $3 million to
congressional candidates, making it the sixth largest
contributor, ahead of the International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers.
comparison, in 2012 the two Arab-American PACs—the Arab
American Leadership Council PAC and the Arab American
Political Action Committee—gave a total of $20,000 in
campaign contributions——less than 1 percent of the total
amount contributed by pro-Israel PACs. Put another way,
in 2012 pro-Israel PACs gave nearly 150 times more in
question that AIPAC and the Israel lobby bask in their
reputation of invincibility. But that reputation may be
more shallow than it appears. For example, in 2010 it
was clear that the last person the lobby wanted as
senator from Kentucky was Rand Paul. We know that
because pro-Israel PACs gave his Republican primary
opponent $33,500, and $16,250 to the Democratic
candidate for Senate, for a total of just under $50,000.
Rand Paul got just $2,000—but he went on to win the
candidate who got the most pro-Israel PAC contributions
in 2010—Sen. Mark Kirk, who now holds President Obama’s
seat from Illinois—barely won his election, despite a
massive $115,304 in pro-Israel PAC campaign
contributions, and that he raised more than $4 million
more than his opponent. He still just barely made it.
history of pro-Israel PAC contributions is instructive.
He started out getting $7,000 for his 2000 race, and it
went up dramatically for each race thereafter. And when
he got $91,200 for a House race in 2008, it was clear
that they were setting him up to run for the Senate.
recently I never heard Kirk described as anything but a
“moderate Republican.” As far as I know, his actions on
behalf of Israel were never a campaign issue, and the
mainstream media certainly didn’t raise it.
evidence was there for all to see on his Senate campaign
website. Not only does Mark Kirk write his name in
Hebrew, but it’s not in the Stars-and-Stripes, but the
blue of the Israeli flag.
So even when
the mainstream media don’t talk, campaign contributions
I hope and
urge you to take this information and make it public—by
attending campaign events and directly asking the
candidates what they’ve done to deserve this money, by
writing letters to the editor, etc. Let your fellow
constituents know that their representative in Congress
too often is putting the interests of a foreign
government above their own.
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