Several outside groups are trying to slow the momentum of current Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) by spending millions on ad buys, as he continues to dominate the polls.
The campaign against Sanders originated with hybrid PAC Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel moderate group, that spent over $1.4 million against Sanders. The group spent over $800,000 running ads against the frontrunning Democratic presidential candidate in Iowa and it’s spending $600,000 in Nevada, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Most of the PAC’s contributors have a clear history of giving money to candidates on both sides of the aisle. Its biggest donor is Stacy Schusterman, CEO of Samson Resources, an oil and gas company, who donated $1 million to the group in 2019. Schusterman has a long history of donating to Democratic candidates, except in 2016 when she contributed almost $130,000 to 25 Republican lawmakers including $2,700 to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Venture capitalist Gary Mark Lauder was the second highest donor to the hybrid PAC giving $500,000. New York businessman Milton Cooper was the next highest at $150,000. Active in donating to various Democrats, he also contributed $4,000 to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and $2,000 to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in 2019.
Ron Zeff, founder and CEO of Carmel Partners, a real estate investment firm, gave the group $100,000. He previously contributed over $70,000 to the GOP. Zeff also donated to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012 against President Barack Obama.
The Sanders campaign said it raised $1.3 million within a day of the super PAC ads airing. Of the non-billionaires in the race, Sanders is the only candidate to report substantial cash on hand through January.
On Wednesday, Mark Mellman, president of Democratic Majority for Israel, announced the group will no longer be running any ads against Sanders or contribute in the presidential race after its ad buys in Nevada run out. The group will focus on Democratic congressional races instead, Jewish Insider reported.
“We will be involved in congressional races and in some cases those are Democrats running against Republican and in some case, those are pro-Israel champions running against anti-Israel challengers,” Mellman reportedly said.
While Mellman’s group will be taking a backseat, the committee has been running an anti-Sanders campaign through Facebook ads since last year. It recently came under scrutiny for accusing “radicals” in the Democratic Party of “pushing their anti-Semitic and anti-Israel policies down the throats of the American people.” The group later apologized for “the ad’s imprecise wording (that) distorted our message and offended many.”
Another group meant to boost moderates, The Big Tent Project, reportedly has a budget of $1 million to run ads against Sanders. Big Tent has spent $200,000 of the budget running two test ads in Nevada and South Carolina, as both states will hold upcoming primaries. Sanders is projected to win both states according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls.
While one ad accuses the frontrunner of dumping waste in Latino communities, the other criticizes his healthcare policy. “The cost? Another four years of Trump,” the ad says. Run by Jonathan Kott, a former top aide to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Big Tent is classified as a 501(c)(4) and is not required to disclose its donors.
Sanders has long questioned American policy toward Israel and advocates an approach that addresses both Israeli security and a “pro-Palestinian” perspective. His criticism has made pro-Israel Democrats and supporters anxious, resulting in a surge of anti-Sanders ads.
As Sanders is projected to win the upcoming contests, big Democratic donors have concerns about him being the presidential candidate, Politico reported. The concern within democrats is that an anti-Sanders campaign could result in boosting his contributions from an already devoted support base. For others, it’s about Sanders’ possible inability to woo moderate and Republican voters.