Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), left, speaks as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) look on. Omar and Bowman are top t
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other high-dollar groups that collectively make up the pro-Israel establishment have long had it out for progressive House Democrats with strong pro-Palestinian sympathies.
Their anger at members of the left-wing “Squad” bloc and other fellow travelers has intensified several-fold since the Palestinian group Hamas’ massacre of 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza.
In Congress, the largely progressive critics of Israel’s actions argue that the U.S. ally’s response to the Hamas terror attack has been unnecessarily brutal, killing more than 26,000 Palestinians, the majority of them women and children, and fostering a humanitarian catastrophe for those Gaza residents who survive. A vocal minority of these Democrats has advocated for an immediate cease-fire to end Israel’s invasion and reiterated their calls for stricter conditions on U.S. military aid to Israel.
But mainstream pro-Israel groups, which are ideologically right of center but endorse many liberal Democrats, see Israel’s war as a righteous effort against Hamas’ extremists. These groups share the Israeli government’s assessment that Hamas has endangered its own population by operating out of a tunnel network underneath civilian communities in Gaza.
As a result, AIPAC, Democratic Majority for Israel — which, unlike AIPAC, does not endorse Republicans — and other allied groups have announced their plans to support primary challenges against a list of lawmakers that includes Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Summer Lee (Pa.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), and Cori Bush (Mo.). Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Congress’ first-ever Palestinian American woman, is also a top target for pro-Israel groups, but a serious challenger has yet to materialize in her race.
Among Republicans, AIPAC has expressed anger at libertarian Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) who joined nine Democrats in voting against a $14 billion emergency military aid package to Israel, though it is unclear whether a pro-Israel primary challenge against Massie is in the offing.
The Israel-centered Democratic primaries in the House are set to be the most consequential of the election cycle, as progressive Israel critics once again test their ability to withstand an onslaught of pro-Israel cash.
And as expected, Wednesday’s disclosures confirm that the pro-Israel cash is coming. AIPAC’s super PAC, United Democracy Project, had a banner fundraising period, raising more than $35 million from July to the end of the year for a total of nearly $41 million in cash on hand. United Democracy Project, which AIPAC created ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, spent about $33 million total last cycle. This time, it is evidently poised to spend more.
AIPAC’s political action committee, which also dates to the 2022 cycle, raised about $3 million in the final quarter of 2023, bringing its cash on hand to about $2 million. The PAC is responsible for giving out the group’s official endorsements and is legally barred from giving candidates more than $10,000 per cycle.
Democratic Majority for Israel’s super PAC raised about $2 million from July to the end of 2023, and has about $1.7 million left in cash on hand.
Justice Democrats, the group most responsible for defending members of the Squad from primary challenges, has relatively modest funds with which to resist its adversaries. The group’s super PAC raised about $1.7 million from July to the end of 2023, leaving it with about $870,000 in cash on hand at the end of the year after spending $1.2 million over the same period.
“Progressive incumbents have brought in record fundraising quarters themselves and we at Justice Democrats have raised over $1M in the last quarter from everyday Americans to protect our progressive champions in Congress,” Justice Democrats PAC spokesperson Usamah Andrabi said. “Last cycle, we showed people power can overcome AIPAC’s millions in Summer Lee’s historic victory and we will do it again this cycle.”
But Bowman is one Justice Democrats-backed incumbent who started the year with less cash than his challenger, Westchester County Executive George Latimer. Bowman raised $735,000 in the fourth quarter of 2023 and had $630,000 in cash on hand at the start of January. He also lost the endorsement of liberal pro-Israel group J Street, which objects to some of Bowman’s rhetoric, including his characterization of Israel’s invasion of Gaza as “genocide.” (That un-endorsement may not have major financial consequences: J Street’s super PAC had just under $40,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2023.)
Latimer, who only entered the race in December, nonetheless raised $1.4 million in the fourth quarter with the help of his pro-Israel Rolodex. He had $1.3 million in cash on hand at the start of January.
Here are four other takeaways from Wednesday’s campaign-finance reports:
President Joe Biden (D), left, has been raising more money than former President Donald Trump (R), the likely Republican nominee. Biden has not had to contend with a real primary.
Biden Is Still Raising More Than Trump
President Joe Biden had another good fundraising period in the fourth quarter of 2023, according to a campaign finance disclosure that came out Wednesday. Biden’s reelection campaign raised $33 million in the final three months of last year, bringing his cash-on-hand total to about $46 million.
Former President Donald Trump, the odds-on favorite for the Republican presidential nomination, raised $19 million in the last quarter of 2023, bringing his cash-on-hand total to about $33 million.
The Democratic National Committee — the party body working to reelect Biden — has a similar edge over its Republican counterpart. In December 2023 alone, the DNC raised $14.7 million, bringing its cash-on-hand total to more than $21 million. The RNC, by contrast, raised $5.3 million, bringing its cash-on-hand total to just over $8 million.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown Is In Good Shape. His Rivals Are Still Fighting Each Other.
The two Senate seats Democrats are most eager — and hardest pressed — to hold on to are in Montana and Ohio. And Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is seeking his fourth term in a state that has been drifting steadily to the right, is raising money like his political life depends on it. He raised about $6.6 million in the last three months of 2023 and spent about $3.2 million, bringing his cash total to $14.6 million.
Brown’s situation looks all the rosier because of how the Republican primary is draining the resources of three GOP contenders vying to take him on. Over the same period, Bernie Moreno, a businessman with the coveted backing of former President Donald Trump, raised just under $800,000 and spent $3.8 million trying to defeat wealthy state Sen. Matt Dolan, and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. That left Moreno, who has already lent his campaign $3 million, with about $2 million in cash.
Dolan, a part owner of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Guardians, raised over $350,000, spent $2.3 million, and has $4.8 million left over. He previously lent the campaign $7 million of his own money.
LaRose, who is not self-funding, is the least flush. He raised over $800,000, spent over $900,000, and now has less than $800,000 left over.
Ohio’s Senate primary is due to occur on March 19.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), right, talks with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) during a Senate Banking Committee hearing. The two men are Republicans' top targets in the Senate.
The Montana Money Race Is Also Lopsided For Democrats
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — that other, most endangered Democrat — also had strong fundraising in the fourth quarter of 2023. He raised $5.5 million, spent $7.3 million, and has $11.2 million left over.
His Republican challenger Tim Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL turned cattle rancher, currently lacks a major rival for the GOP nomination. But Sheehy raised $2.5 million, spent $2.3 million, and has $1.3 million left. His fundraising total in the fourth quarter also includes $450,000 that he lent his campaign, bringing his self-funding total to $950,000.
U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), a hardline MAGA lawmaker, is widely expected to enter the Senate race against Sheehy, an establishment darling. Rosendale’s House campaign did not have a banner fundraising quarter though, limiting how much he will be able to transfer to a Senate bid. He raised just $98,000, bringing his total cash on hand to $1.7 million.
The Montana Senate primary is slated to occur on June 4.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) departs a New York City court after pleading not guilty to new charges in October. He spent $2.3 million of his campaign funds on legal services.
Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez Shows Why It Pays Not To Resign
The U.S. Department of Justice indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife Nadine in September for accepting large bribes from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for him using his office to provide those businessmen and the Egyptian government with favors.
Many New Jersey Democrats, led by Gov. Phil Murphy, quickly called on Menendez to resign, but Menendez refused to do so, or to withdraw from his Senate race in November. Election watchers noted that remaining in office and maintaining his reelection campaign would enable Menendez to continue using his campaign account to raise funds for his legal expenses. Federal campaign finance law allows candidates to use campaign funds to cover legal costs provided that the charges facing the candidate involve their actions while serving in office.
Sure enough, Menendez’s campaign-finance disclosure from the fourth quarter of 2023 shows him shelling out donors’ cash to high-priced defense attorneys. He spent a total of $2.3 million on legal services over that period, including $1 million to Paul Hastings in Washington, $654,000 to Winston & Strawn in Chicago, $300,000 to Schertler & Oronato in Washington, $200,000 to Jones Day in Boston, and $175,000 to McDermott, Will & Emery in Washington.
Menendez is all but certain to lose to a Democratic challenger, however, in the Garden State’s June 4 primaries.
The two main candidates competing to unseat Menendez are U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, a three-term lawmaker from South Jersey, and first lady Tammy Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs employee who is married to Gov. Murphy.
Kim, who entered the Senate race in September, raised $1.8 million in the final quarter of 2023, bringing his cash total to $2.7 million.
Murphy, who entered the race in mid-November, has already raised $3.2 million and has $2.7 million left in cash on hand. She is also capable of self-funding and has not yet begun to do so in earnest.