AIPAC doesn’t contribute directly to candidates. Which pro-Israel groups do?

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David Friedman, United States Ambassador to Israel, speaking at the AIPAC Policy Conference (Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Freshmen Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) garnered considerable criticism from Democrats and Republicans over the weekend for comments she made regarding the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) deemed by many as anti-Semitic.

Omar tweeted that AIPAC, a group which doesn’t actually have its own PAC, was paying Congress members, specifically Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), to support Israel. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a joint statement with Democratic leaders condemned Omar’s remarks on Monday. Omar apologized in a tweet on Monday afternoon, but said that “I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry.”

Though AIPAC as an organization cannot contribute to campaigns, individuals who work for the organization have. In the 2018 election cycle, individuals affiliated with the organization donated just $21,350 to 14 different candidates, nine of whom were Democrats. No one associated with AIPAC gave any contributions to McCarthy.

AIPAC said in a tweet on Sunday night that “We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests. We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work.”

AIPAC is a significant player in terms of lobbying, accounting for the vast majority of lobbying spending by pro-Israel groups, spending more than $3.5 million in 2018. The organization was staunchly opposed to the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015, lobbied extensively against it and supported the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement.

Other pro-Israel groups are also prominent and active political spending forces each cycle. The 2018 midterms saw groups in the movement contribute more than $14.8 million, the highest total for them in a midterm since 1990. Contributions went predominantly towards Democrats who received 63 percent. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) received by far the most money from pro-Israel groups in 2018 with $546,507. In comparison, McCarthy received just $33,200 from pro-Israel groups in the midterms.

In all, 269 members of the House and 57 members of the Senate received some monetary contributions from pro-Israel interests in 2018.

The most involved group in terms of political contributions in the 2018 cycle was JStreet, an organization which supports strong U.S.-Israel relations and a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Contributions totaled more than $4 million, the majority of contributions came from individuals, all of which went to Democratic candidates. Their PAC, JStreetPAC, contributed $416,437 to federal candidates in 2018.

The top overall JStreet recipient was Dan Kohl (D-Wis.) with $228,983. Kohl, who is on the board of directors for JStreet, lost his race for a House seat in Wisconsin. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) received the second-most with $206,705.

NorPAC, a nonpartisan PAC with the goal of supporting members and candidates who “demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel,” spent more than $1.1 million in the 2018 cycle, with much of it going to Democrats.

The group which spent the most on Republican candidates was the Republican Jewish Coalition which contributed $501,097 during the midterms. The group’s biggest contribution, $42,474, went to the campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). On the Republican Jewish Coalition board is the largest individual donor from the 2018 cycle, Sheldon Adelson. Also holding a board seat is another big money donor, co-founder of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus.

Pro-Israel groups also spent a significant amount of money on lobbying in 2018 with more than $5 million, the highest ever since tracking began in 1998.

A variety of other groups other than AIPAC spend some money on lobbying, such as the Israeli-American Coalition for Action with $550,000 and JStreet with $300,000. Bills like the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and Combating BDS Act of 2017 received plenty of the lobbying attention.

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