A pro-Israel PAC with ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is spending big to defeat progressive candidate Nina Turner in an Ohio special Democratic primary election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives representing a safely blue district.
Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) has spent $738,000 opposing Turner and $203,000 supporting her chief opponent, Shontel Brown, with a large portion of the spending ($351,000) going towards producing and airing anti-Turner attack ads and smaller amounts going to digital platform advertising and direct mail pieces.
The primary contest between Turner and Brown to fill the seat vacated by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge is the latest high-profile battle between the Democratic establishment and a more left-leaning Democratic coalition exemplified by the members of the so-called Squad and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns. Internal polls from the campaigns suggest that Turner is the favorite, but a poll taken by Brown’s campaign while the DMFI ads began airing indicates Turner’s lead may have shrunk.
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The two have striking differences when it comes to their policy goals. While Turner’s website names Medicare for All as a main issue, Brown’s website says she would vote for Medicare for All if it came up, but that she believes a public health care option is the best way to achieve universal health care coverage. On Israel, Brown told Jewish Insider she would vote to continue sending the country $3.8 billion in military aid with no conditions, while Turner said she supports conditioning the aid to “align with significant advances in human rights.” Brown’s more centrist policy goals have won her the assistance of the corporate influence industry — a recent fundraiser for her campaign was hosted by a raft of lobbyists for companies including ExxonMobil, Google, Comcast, and Pfizer, according to the Daily Poster.
Shontel Brown’s media webpage has featured a quote from DMFI President and Treasurer Mark Mellman since at least May, more than a month before DMFI began spending in the race. Although it is illegal for campaigns to coordinate with outside spending groups like DMFI, Brown’s website also features a red box filled with text that is designed to communicate messaging priorities for outside groups to use in their advertising while not violating the coordination law because the information is available to the general public. Ryan Grim pointed out at The Intercept that the messaging PDF linked in Brown’s red box is named “SB4C Red Box.”
DMFI appears to have pulled directly from Brown’s red box for some of their other materials. In an attack ad it’s airing, DMFI displays a HuffPost headline about how she compared voting for Biden to eating a bowl of shit, which is the top messaging suggestion in Brown’s red box. Another suggestion from Brown’s red box, that Turner voted against the Democratic Party platform at the DNC, was used by DMFI in a highly misleading mailer that claims Turner’s vote against the platform means she opposes universal health care and raising the minimum wage. Turner voted against the platform in part because it did not endorse universal health care and in 2016 she was the sponsor of the amendment to the DNC platform that added an endorsement of a $15 minimum wage.
DMFI PAC, although a legally independent group, is closely tied to the Democratic Party. The vendors employed by the group to execute the expenditures are all companies that work with Democratic Party organizations. For example, DMFI’s top vendor for its spending in this race is Sage Media Planning & Placement, Inc., which primarily works with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and its offshoot group End Citizens United. Another DMFI vendor for the race is Trilogy Interactive LLC, which works for the DCCC and Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC affiliated with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Last cycle, DMFI PAC received a $120,000 donation from CHC Bold PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus PAC that is chaired by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).
Mellman’s consulting firm, The Mellman Group, has worked for multiple AIPAC-affiliated organizations, including the American Israel Education Foundation and Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, and has also been employed by major corporations and lobbying groups including Blue Cross Blue Shield, PhRMA, and Verizon. AIPAC is a lobbying group that was formed in the 1950s to create positive spin for Israel after the Israeli Army massacred dozens of Palestinian civilians in the village of Qibya. 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. The American Israel Education Foundation is a charitable offshoot of AIPAC that organizes fact-finding trips to Israel for members of Congress.
Today, DMFI filed its pre-special election report with the FEC, revealing for the first time the corporate executives and financiers who have been funding it this year. Here are some of the top donors to DMFI’s non-contribution account since January 1.
Amnon Rodan, the former chairman of the multi-level marketing dermatology company Rodan + Fields, has been DMFI’s largest donor this year, giving the PAC $145,000. He is married to billionaire Katie Rodan, who co-created the acne management product Proactiv. Amnon is a director of the American Israel Education Fund and a former AIPAC board member.
Stacy Schusterman, the chairman of Oklahoma-based oil and gas company Samson Energy, has given DMFI $95,000 so far this year. Samson Energy currently operates assets in the Denver Julesburg basin in Wyoming, where it owns drilling rights to over 70,000 acres. Schusterman is a prolific political donor who mainly gives to Democratic politicians and groups, but last year she also donated the legal maximum of $5,600 to Republicans Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Rep. Kay Granger of Texas. Stacy’s mother Lynn Schusterman is worth $3.4 billion, according to Forbes. Schusterman has been a major donor to DMFI in previous years, as The Intercept recently reported.
Victor Kohn, the president of investment company Capital International Inc., donated $50,000 to DMFI and the Kohn Family Trust chipped in another $50,000. Kohn’s past campaign contributions have primarily gone to Democrats, but he has also donated to Republicans including Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Andrew Viterbi is a co-founder of Qualcomm and the owner of Viterbi Group LLC, a venture capital firm that invests in emerging wireless communication and network infrastructure companies. He gave DMFI $45,000 this year. His son Alan Viterbia also gave the group $45,000. Alan is the CEO of Liquid Environmental Solutions and a former vice president of Lockheed Martin.
Barry Porter, the co-founder and managing general partner of private equity company Clarity Management, donated $45,000 to DMFI this year. Companies in the firm’s portfolio include oil and gas company Vaca Energy and copper mining company Skye Minerals Partners.
Alan Levow, a board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has given DMFI $45,000 this year. Levow is a principal at real estate company Crowne Partners, which manages several luxury multi-family housing units throughout the Southeast as well as multiple commercial properties in Florida. Levow is vice president of the American Israel Education Foundation.
Jeffrey Aronson, co-founder and managing principal at Centerbridge Partners, gave $45,000. Centerbridge Partners is a vulture fund that specializes in distressed debt and leveraged buyouts, and has been one of the biggest investors in Puerto Rico, helping to further austerity policies on the island.
Milton Cooper, founder of New York-based Kimco Realty, donated $45,000. Kimco is a public company that owns and operates dozens of shopping plazas throughout the country. Cooper is a member of AIPAC’s real estate division, which is an initiative to encourage members of the New York real estate industry to get involved in pro-Israel politics.