HomePoliticsPro-Israel Pac pours millions into surprise candidate for Maryland primary

Pro-Israel Pac pours millions into surprise candidate for Maryland primary

A pro-Israel lobby group has drawn millions of people into a congressional race in Maryland as tensions over the war in Gaza remain high.

The Third Congressional District primary race, held Tuesday, has drawn national attention thanks to the candidacy of one Democrat in particular: Harry Dunn. A former US Capitol Police officer, Dunn and his colleagues were praised for their actions defending lawmakers against a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters on January 6. In his New York Times bestselling memoir, Standing My Ground, Dunn recounted how the insurrectionists repeatedly used the N-word as they attacked him and other black officers.

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Dunn announced his bid to replace retiring Democratic Congressman John Sarbanes on the third anniversary of January 6, marking his first formal foray into electoral politics. Despite Dunn’s high name recognition, the group United Democracy Project, a Super Pac affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), has thrown its support behind another primary candidate.

UDP has spent more than $4.2 million supporting Senator Sarah Elfreth, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

UDP’s investment comes after the group spent $4.6 million on a failed effort to block Democratic congressional candidate Dave Min from advancing to the general election in California’s 47th district. But the group scored one of the biggest victories of the election cycle so far on Tuesday, when former Republican Rep. John Hostettler lost his primary race in Indiana’s eighth district. UDP had spent $1.6 million defeating Hostettler because of his voting record on Israel and some of his past comments that were criticized as anti-Semitic.

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The UDP’s decision to enter the crowded Maryland primary came as something of a surprise, as neither Dunn nor Elfreth have made a point of emphasizing their positions on Israel in their campaign messages. a UDP advertisement for Elfreth does not mention Israel at all and instead focuses on her legislative record, applauding her work in the Senate.

“Sarah Elfreth gets things done,” says the ad’s narrator. “With so much at stake – abortion rights, the environment, our democracy – we need a member of Congress who will deliver.”

UDP did not respond to a request for comment, but last month the group’s spokesman acknowledged Dunn’s “support for a strong US-Israel relationship” in a statement to HuffPost but expressed concerns about other candidates in the primaries .

“There are some seriously anti-Israel candidates in this race who are not Harry Dunn, and we need to make sure they don’t make it to Congress,” spokesman Patrick Dorton said.

That comment appeared to refer to progressive candidate John Morse, a labor attorney who has won the endorsement of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and has focused his campaign on his vocal support for a ceasefire in Gaza. In a recent interview Speaking to Fox45 Baltimore, Morse said: “I am the most vocal about a permanent humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza because I think this is the critical issue going on right now.”

Meanwhile, UDP’s investment has helped Elfreth compete against Dunn’s massive fundraising, as the first-time candidate has raised nearly $4.6 million since entering the race. By comparison, Elfreth’s campaign has raised roughly a third as much money, at $1.5 million, with all twenty other candidates lagging even further behind.

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UDP support for Elfreth is not part of this total; Federal regulations prohibit Super Pacs from contributing directly to political candidates, but the groups can spend unlimited amounts of money to promote or criticize specific campaigns.

The financial battle could help determine what is expected to be a close race. A poll commissioned by Dunn’s campaign showed him leading Elfreth by four points, 22% to 18%, with Senator Clarence Lam in third place with 8%. The winner of the primary will almost certainly win a seat in the House of Representatives, given the district’s liberal leanings. In 2022, Sarbanes won reelection by 20 points in the Third District, which includes Annapolis and the suburbs of Washington and Baltimore.

Elfreth has said that she, like her opponents, was surprised by the UDP’s support, although she has not rejected the group’s help.

“I don’t feel comfortable with dark money either,” Elfreth told Maryland Matters last month. “I do not like it. But I am not in a position to say no to people who want to amplify my message.”

Despite being largely silent on the Gaza war, Dunn is now indirectly influenced by the UDP’s electoral strategy, and has made the group’s involvement in the race a campaign issue. When news of UDP’s investment broke last month, Dunn responded by calling on all candidates to “condemn this dirty money spending funded by Maga.” [Make America Great Again] Republicans”. In a statement to the Guardian, Dunn described the Super Pac’s involvement as an affront to the legacy of Sarbanes, who made campaign finance reform one of his top priorities during his nine terms in Congress.

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“Our grassroots movement will not be deterred by this shady spending. I have made protecting and strengthening our democracy the centerpiece of our campaign,” said Dunn. “We are going to win this race, and if I get into Congress, I know who I will be working for and who I will be accountable to — and it won’t be the dark money donors or the special interest groups.”

That message appears to be resonating with voters, as Dunn’s team boasts that more than 100,000 people have donated to his campaign. FEC documents show that of the $4.6 million Dunn raised, nearly $3.7 million came in the form of pooled contributions, meaning they came from donors who contributed less than $200 during the election cycle candidate gifts. According to Dunn’s team, the average contribution to the campaign was $21.64.

By comparison, of Elfreth’s $1.5 million raised, only $85,000 came from joint contributions, indicating that most of her donations came from supporters who gave more than $200. Her FEC filings show that some of her larger contributions came from some well-known Republican donors — including Robert Sarver, former owner of the Phoenix Suns, and Larry Mizel, one of Trump’s 2016 campaign finance chairs. Mizel has also served as a member . of the board of directors of Aipac.

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