Washington, DC - March 7, 2014 8AM-5PM at the National Press Club

"..a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils."

-George Washington, Farewell Address


Speaker Transcripts Audio and Video

  The Israel lobby network and coordinated PACs that finance U.S. elections
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by Janet McMahon is the 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 The 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.

I’m Janet 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.


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 shortly.

In 1990, 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.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, whose website,, 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 concerned.

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.

Pro-Israel PACs have several interesting characteristics.

First of  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 lists as the top PAC donating in 2012—all list their industry as “real estate agents.”

And each of the 7 PACs includes “Association of Realtors” in its name.

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.

What this 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 government.

Another 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.

And they 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 dollars.

Another 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.

“Bundling” 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.

According to 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.

What’s MOST striking about these 30-odd pro-Israel PACs, however, is their pattern of giving.

Once you’ve 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.

In fact, 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.

For example, 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.

Now, one 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:

Steny Hoyer is nowhere to be found.

Similarly, 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.


A memo 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.

The memo, 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.

Despite this “smoking gun memo,” however, the Federal Election Commission classifies AIPAC as a “membership organization,” rather than a political committee.

And what 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.

For example, 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 sorry.

But that 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.

By 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 campaign contributions.

There’s no 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 election.

Even 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.

Kirk’s 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.

Yet until 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.

Yet the 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 do.

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.

Thank you very much.

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