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INVESTIGATION: The Super PACs Trying To Take Down Working Class Candidates For Congress

Inside the flood of billionaire super PAC money — $18 million in 3 months — that's targeting working class candidates

AIPAC Conference

By Max Berger

Billionaire-funded super PACs are pouring money into seven key congressional districts to defeat working-class candidates – mostly women of color – in tight races. 

Four well-financed super PACs have spent over $18 million in just the past three months to help corporate-aligned Democrats maintain their control over the Democratic Party.

AIPAC PAC*UDPDMFI PACMainstreamProtect Our FutureTotal on Race
Foushee vs. Allam$166,899$2,128,196$290,131$1,104,138$3,689,364
Davis vs. Smith$2,900$2,440,050$466,706$2,909,656
Lee vs. Irwin$271,603$2,685,620$403,452$3,360,675
Cisneros vs. Cuellar$165,455$1,295,301$751,444$2,212,200
Schrader vs. McLeod-Skinner$15,920$785,001$800,921
Stevens vs. Levin$300,241$300,241
Turner vs. Brown$759,741$282,048$3,130,643$151,585$1,010,178$5,334,195
Total$1,682,759$8,831,215$4,290,932$1,688,030$2,114,316$18,607,254
* For AIPAC PAC, numbers are sum total of earmarked individual contributions

Who’s funding them?

Much of the big money intervening against these working-class champions comes from AIPAC-affiliated donors, a right-wing lobby for Israel. These ads that AIPAC helps fund however, virtually never mention the word Israel. They route funding through two giant super PACs: the Democratic Majority for Israel and the United Democracy Project. All together, the two AIPAC-related super PACs have spent over $10 million in these seven races. 

United Democracy Project 

The United Democracy Project – the biggest funder of this ad barrage – proclaims to be engaged in efforts to strengthen democracies here and abroad. But, AIPAC PAC has also endorsed 109 Republicans who sided with the insurrectionists and voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election. So, a billionaire-funded super PAC that supports Republicans who objected to Electoral College results is creating ads saying working-class candidates of color aren’t real Democrats. 

The United Democracy Project raised $15.7 million in the first quarter — $8.5 million of that from AIPAC itself. Major individual donors to UDP in the first quarter included investor and media mogul Haim Saban, who donated $1 million; investors Michael Leffell and Linda Rubin, who each donated $500,000; investor Ed Levy, philanthropist Phil de Toledo, investor Tony Davis and financial analyst Victor Kohn, who each donated $250,000; and investor Kenneth Levy, who donated $200,000.

DMFI 

The Democratic Majority for Israel is a super PAC founded by people tied to AIPAC that allows them to engage in Democratic primaries without AIPAC’s brand. Many of DMFI’s donors have also been affiliated with AIPAC. For example, Stacy Schusterman, the chairman of oil and gas company Samson Energy and DMFI PAC’s top donor this year with $2.5 million given, is a former AIPAC board member. Several DMFI board members have previously held positions with AIPAC or its affiliate the American Israel Education Fund, including co-chairs Ann Lewis and Todd Richman.

Mainstream Democrats 

Major Democratic donor Reid Hoffman has invested $500,000 into a new super PAC meant to beat back Democratic left-wing populists. Its website says it’s “the only Democratic group with the courage to consistently defend mainstream Democrats and defeat extreme candidates whose stated goal is “to overthrow” the Democratic Party.”   

According to Puck News, “Mainstream Democrats shares staff, offices and other resources with another PAC that has gone after Turner, the Democratic Majority For Israel—which, despite its name, has been focused on beating back liberals more broadly. Now, with a new brand and with Hoffman’s help, the group is going bigger.” 

Protect Our Future

Recently, these groups have been joined by Protect Our Future, which gets much of  its money from Sam Bankman-Fried, a crypto billionaire who is worth $24 billion. Protect Our Future says it’s concerned with vaccination preparedness, but many of the crypto billionaires are trying to cultivate positive relationships with lawmakers because they fear the potential of future crypto regulation. It’s spent $16 million dollars across all races this election cycle. 

Their Playbook

The billionaire funded super PACs have targeted candidates around the country who have been fighting for a working-class agenda: Jessica Cisernos in Laredo, Erica Smith and Nida Allam in North Carolina, Nina Turner in Cleveland, and Andy Levin in Michigan. They’ve also gone all out to help Kurt Schrader in Oregon. The  super PACs see these candidates as threats to their control of the Democratic Party.

Their sharpest line of attack, which they’ve repeated in several races, is that working-class candidates are not real Democrats (again, coming from an organization which has endorsed 109 Republicans who refused to certify Biden’s election).

  • In an ad, the United Democracy Project accused Summer Lee of “wanting to dismantle the Democratic Party” – even though she’s running against a former Republican.
  • In an ad targeting Erica Smith, DMF accused her of “letting herself be used by the Republican Party”
  • In an ad targeting Nina Turner, DMFI said, “Nina Turner is back at it. Spreading lies and division. Turner refused to endorse Clinton over Trump.” 

However, they are willing to use anything they can to stop working-class candidates from winning. They’ve spent a combined more than $2 million on ads to help the final remaining anti-choice Democrat in the house – including one that calls Jessica Cisernos, an immigration attorney, “a risk to our jobs and our safety.”

The Consultants Helping Them 

There are major players in the Democratic Party who are helping these super PACs take out working-class champions. Some of the most powerful and connected firms in Democratic politics are part of the effort to defeat working-class insurgents, including:

The ads were produced by a firm called Waterfront Strategies, which is the media production wing of a firm called GMMB. It’s the biggest media production company in Democratic Party politics. In 2020, Democrats paid the firm $632,064,023. Why is the biggest firm in Democratic politics helping a former Republican staffer defeat a progressive woman of color?

SKDK has produced ads for the United Democracy Project. One of its leaders, Anita Dunn, was a top staffer in President Biden’s 2020 victory who worked in his administration before returning to her company last summer. According to the Washington Post, “the firm has served a sprawling roster of high-powered clients in recent years, including Fortune 500 companies like AT&T and Pfizer.” Politico recently reported that SKDK was working for Starbucks while the company was engaged in heinous union-busting and only recently terminated the relationship.

It was paid tens of millions of dollars in 2020 for its work with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa and Nebraska. 

DMFI is run by Mark Mellman, who also runs the Mellman Group. It has contracts with the DCCC, DSCC, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and several conservative Democrats in Congress.

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