AIPAC Is Secretly Intervening In Portland’s Congressional Race To Take Down Susheela Jayapal, Sources Say

AIPAC Is Secretly Intervening In Portland’s Congressional Race To Take Down Susheela Jayapal, Sources Say

The pro-Israel group is funneling money through a “pro-science” PAC, according to two members of Congress.

by Ryan Grim, reposted from The Intercept, May 3, 2024

IN APRIL, A super PAC ostensibly committed to supporting “pro-science” candidates began dropping eye-popping sums of money on a Portland, Oregon, congressional race. 314 Action Fund, which is not known for spending big in congressional primaries, has spent $1.7 million in support of a single candidate in the 3rd Congressional District’s open Democratic primary, according to federal filings. That sum is equal to what the political action committee spent on independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates during the entire 2022 election cycle.

314 Action Fund, which describes itself as helping to elect “Democrats with a background in science to public office,” is throwing its weight behind Maxine Dexter, a state representative and local doctor. The news outlet Jewish Insider floated Dexter as a potentially pro-Israel candidate before she entered the race.

By waiting until April to launch its spending blitz, 314 Action is able to delay disclosure of its donors until May 20. The election is scheduled for May 21, but ballots have already begun arriving to voters by mail. In other words, the identity of the donor or donors won’t be documented in campaign finance reports until it’s too late.

What is publicly known, however, is that former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, the sister of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, was considered the candidate to beat before the sudden influx of money last month.

And what The Intercept can reveal is that Susheela Jayapal is being targeted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which is secretly funneling money into the race by washing it through 314 Action, according to two Democratic members of Congress familiar with the arrangement.

The pro-Israel community telegraphed its intent to target Jayapal early on, primarily for suspicion that her politics on Israel–Palestine may align with her younger sister’s, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who called for a ceasefire early in the current war on Gaza.

On December 5, a story landed in Jewish Insider, which closely tracks congressional primaries, headlined “Jayapal sister’s congressional candidacy alarming Portland Jewish leaders.” The article noted that “local pro-Israel advocates … have yet to coalesce behind a viable candidate,” and it named Dexter as a possibility. Given the politics of Portland and the surrounding area, the pro-Israel community had little chance of nominating a candidate unapologetically and unconditionally supportive of Israel’s war effort, but Dexter had potential. Dexter launched her campaign later that same day.

The last-minute spending in the race is enormous: on track to climb north of $3 million in a short period of time in an inexpensive media market. On Friday, a brand-new super PAC got involved with nearly $1 million worth of negative ads against Jayapal.

Some of the money directed to 314 Action — close to a million dollars by early April — had come from a single Los Angeles-based AIPAC donor, according to the members of Congress, who asked for anonymity to preserve professional and political relationships. The plan was openly discussed at a recent AIPAC fundraiser in Los Angeles, as well as a fundraiser in the Pacific Northwest, said the members of Congress, who learned about it from colleagues in attendance or were themselves in attendance.

AIPAC’s super PAC, United Democracy Project, has not spent any money on the race. AIPAC did not respond to requests for comment.

Jayapal and Eddy Morales, another candidate in the race, held a joint press conference Thursday to decry the lack of transparency and call on Dexter and 314 Action to open up about the identity of the donors. News cameras that were expected to attend, however, were instead covering a police crackdown at Portland State University, where students have been protesting against the war in Gaza and occupying the library.

Morales and Jayapal issued a joint statement following the press event, saying, “Maxine Dexter claims to be for transparency in politics, but she and 314 Action are engaged in a dishonest and cynical ploy to obscure the donors propping up her campaign until just one day before the primary. At a time when MAGA Republican mega-donors are interfering in Democratic primaries across the country, particularly against qualified candidates of color, voters deserve to know who is trying to buy this seat for a centrist candidate who doesn’t even live in the district.”

Dexter’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement posted online, Dexter said she was “deeply disappointed to see a new dark money group enter this race to disparage one of my opponents.”

314 Action’s website states that it is “committed to transparency: although not required by law, we voluntarily disclose all our donors over $250 in a two year election cycle.” 314 Action did not respond to multiple requests to disclose its recent donors.

Maxine Dexter, a candidate for Congress in Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District.
Maxine Dexter, a candidate for Congress in Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District. (photo)

JAYAPAL LAUNCHED HER campaign in early November after Rep. Earl Blumenauer announced his retirement. As of December, pro-Israel groups had yet to coalesce behind a single candidate to oppose her, giving Jayapal a significant advantage, Jewish Insider warned at the time. “While the elder Jayapal, 61, had no discernible history of public engagement on Middle East policy until recently, her approach to the war between Israel and Hamas suggests there is little distance between the two siblings on such matters,” reported JI. “A pro-Israel leader in Portland, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his privacy, said there is growing concern among other like-minded local activists that Jayapal’s Middle East policy positions ‘will not differ that much from her sister.’”

The same article elevated Dexter as an alternative for pro-Israel voters to coalesce around, though she had yet to formally announce a bid. JI reported that Dexter “has been characterized as a pragmatic progressive but does not appear to have issued any statements on Middle East policy” and that she had told JI that “she has received ‘strong encouragement’ to run.”

Sharon Meieran, described by JI as the lone Jewish member of the Multnomah County Commission, told the outlet she was “excited about her potential candidacy.”

“I can’t speak to her views on Israel, but I was impressed that she attended an event hosted by Congregation Beth Israel in Portland last night to learn about the Zionest movement,” Meieran told JI. “The focus was on intersectional identities and how standing up for social justice and Zionism are not mutually exclusive, but rather are inextricably linked. Showing up and being willing to listen and learn matters, now more than ever, and Maxine walks that walk.”

Organizations supportive of Palestinians rights have since unsuccessfully tried to extract more from Dexter on her position. Last month, a coalition of local groups — Jewish Voice for Peace Portland, Healthcare Workers for Palestine Portland, Jewish-Palestinian Alliance of Oregon, American Council for Palestine, and Portland Democratic Socialists of America — organized a forum on the conflict and invited all the candidates. Dexter’s campaign manager responded that Dexter was busy that evening and couldn’t attend. The group offered to move the date, asking him to offer any available date. He declined. “Between her commitments at the hospital and the number of existing scheduled events, she is not able to add an additional forum at this time,” her campaign manager responded in an email provided to The Intercept.

The coalition asked if she would instead fill out a questionnaire laying out her positions. Her campaign manager stopped responding. Jayapal did respond to the questionnaire, saying she supports putting conditions on military aid to Israel, supports an immediate ceasefire, and would reject money from AIPAC or its affiliates.

ON THURSDAY, CAMPAIGNS in the district were informed by consultants who buy television ads that a brand-new political action committee, this one with the practically satirical name “Voters for Responsive Government,” had purchased nearly $1 million worth of airtime. There is no prior record of the PAC existing. It was registered on April 1. Had it been registered one day earlier, the PAC would be required to disclose its donors by now. Instead, it can withhold that information until May 20.

On Friday, the PAC went live with a website. The “About” page links to its Federal Election Commission filing, listing Los Angeles as the city where it was registered and attorney Cary Davidson as its treasurer. The PAC and Davidson did not respond to a request for comment.

“Voters for Responsive Government” launched with two negative ads targeting Jayapal on Friday. Neither ad mentions Israel or Gaza; one of them literally accuses Jayapal of abusing and starving cats and dogs, with a heartrending image of a suffering puppy and kitty. The attack ads set the new PAC’s strategy apart from 314 Action, which has so far spent only on positive ads boosting Dexter, apparently unwilling to be the vehicle for attack ads against a popular Democrat.

314 Action Fund’s largest disclosed contribution this cycle came from Ray Rothrock, who donated $500,000 on February 15. Rothrock, a venture capitalist, has said that the investment he’s “most proud of” has been in Check Point Software, an Israeli cybersecurity company where he serves as a board director. [Check Point Software has close ties to the Israeli military.] He was also an early investor in Toka, a startup geared toward fighting “terror and crime” that is backed by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. (Rothrock did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the end of March, 314 Action Fund reported having just $1.4 million in cash on hand, meaning new contributions were required to cover the spending underway now.

Relying on “pro-science” or vaguely named, brand-new PACs in order to obscure a donor’s true agenda blows a gaping hole in campaign finance law, which is based on the idea that donors should be able to give and speak freely, but voters have a right to know where the money is coming from, and on whose behalf they are speaking.

AIPAC previously pulled such a maneuver in Manhattan during the 2022 cycle, routing at least $400,000 through a super PAC called New York Progressive, attacking Yuh-Line Niou in a successful effort to elect Dan Goldman, now a member of Congress. Only after the race was over did AIPAC claim credit for the spending.

Pramila Jayapal, meanwhile, has a week to learn whether AIPAC will be successful in recruiting a challenger to her. Multiple local elected officials already turned down such entreaties, relaying the recruitment effort to Jayapal’s campaign or its allies, according to a campaign spokesperson. A recent field poll in Seattle, where Jayapal is an incumbent, tested Jayapal’s popularity as well as potential messages that could be used against her, such as the claim that she is “too extreme” or “out of touch.” According to local Democrats in Washington’s 46th District, one tested message in the poll asked if it bothered voters that Jayapal opposed President Joe Biden sometimes on principle from a progressive direction.

After learning of the recruitment drive, the Jayapal campaign put its own poll in the field. The survey found her with a 69-19 percent favorability rating. When told Jayapal supported a ceasefire in Gaza, 40 percent of Democrats said they were much more likely to support her, and another 29 percent said they’d be more likely. Just 7 percent said that calling for a ceasefire made them less likely to support her.

In Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, Democratic Majority for Israel, an AIPAC-aligned group, has endorsed Janelle Bynum but has not spent on her behalf. Instead, 314 Action Fund has spent $180,000 supporting her. The link to science is even more tenuous with Bynum than it is with Dexter. Bynum previously studied to be an engineer, though is now a McDonald’s franchise owner.

Ryan Grim is The Intercept’s D.C. Bureau Chief and the host of the podcast Deconstructed. He authors the newsletter Politics With Ryan Grim and was previously the Washington bureau chief for HuffPost, where he led a team that was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and won once.



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