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Where megadonors are spending big bucks to shape the future of the Democratic Party

The battle lines aren’t always perfectly ideological — the top-spending group is Protect Our Future, a super PAC backed almost entirely by crypto-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, which has backed candidates from both wings of the party. But high-spending primaries often divide Democrats between so-called progressives and moderates.

‘If you want to be an effective political operation in 2022’ and push ‘your preferred goals in the party,’ said J Street spokesman Logan Bayroff, ‘you need to consider spending on independent spending’ – jargon that describes outside spending on political races. J Street, a liberal pro-Israel advocacy group, launched its own external spending unit for the first time this year and backs a trio of progressive primary candidates.

“The money is coming in very strong, very fast,” Bayroff added.

The cash blast coincides with a year of redistricting that creates entirely new seats — and wide-open primaries to fill them — as well as a 30-year record of retirements among sitting House Democrats. These open seats, especially the deep blue ones, offer a chance for a candidate — and interested outside groups — to hold a congressional seat for decades.

By this point in the 2018 primary cycle, $5.7 million had been spent on television ads during the Democratic House primaries, and in 2020, $10.4 million had been spent from early January to early May. So far this year, $25.8 million has been spent on TV ads in the Democratic House primaries, according to AdImpact, a TV ad tracking company.

“There’s much, much more spending than we’ve ever seen before and that’s for two reasons,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who works with the majority Democratic super PAC for Israel, which dropped candidates supporting candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania. , North Carolina and Texas. “First, because the number of competitive districts has dropped dramatically, most members are now selected in the primaries, so the primaries become more important. Second, people watched the Ohio 11th Special [in 2021] and said, ‘it is possible to step in and really make a difference.’

DMFI spent around $2 million in this primary to defeat Nina Turner, a Bernie Sanders-supported candidate, and boost now-Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio). The group repeated that effort earlier this year, helping re-elect Brown.

“This is a sea change in the Democratic primaries,” Mellman added.

Progressives, meanwhile, say the spending spike is a response to their own growing influence over the party, prompting big-money moderate efforts to contain them.

“Our movement is very sophisticated, very coordinated, gaining momentum, gaining momentum, and this cycle is being flooded with money because they are trying to curb this momentum,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party. , which is spending money on seven House primaries so far.

“There is a very heated debate within the Democratic Party caucus about the direction of this coalition,” he continued. “We are living through the climax of this debate” in the House primaries.

Yet the biggest spender in these primaries does not come from any of the party’s definite wings at all. Protect Our Future, the Bankman-Fried-funded super PAC, bolsters a range of candidates — from $1 million for Working Families Party-endorsed Jasmine Crockett in Texas, to $2 million for moderate Brown in Ohio .

The group’s stated public purpose is to support candidates who will focus on pandemic preparedness. But Democratic operatives of all ideological stripes have raised questions about the purpose of the money, especially as the cryptocurrency industry faces the prospect of new federal regulations from Congress.

“Once everyone has taken their money, it’s harder to argue against it,” said a progressive agent, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly on the issue.

In a statement, Protect Our Future President Michael Sadowsky said the group “provides support for a bench of lawmakers who we believe will be strong advocates in Congress for pandemic prevention.” Sadowsky said factors the group considers in its approval process include “voting history, political platforms, viability as a candidate.”

Its largest — and most controversial — spending involves a newly drawn headquarters in Oregon, where Protect Our Future is spending $13 million to boost Carrick Flynn, an academic researcher specializing in pandemic preparedness. But Flynn, a first-time white candidate, is running against a Democratic field with several candidates of color, including state Rep. Andrea Salinas, who was endorsed by the senator. Elizabeth Warren and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The group’s intervention enraged a number of local and national Democrats.

Another newcomer to the Democratic primaries scene is the US Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, which has embarked on direct candidate spending for the first time in this election. Through its super PAC, United Democracy Project, the group has wasted millions of dollars boosting endorsed candidates and attacking progressives in these primaries.. Last week, no other super PAC spent more on congressional television ads, according to AdImpact.

AIPAC faces progressive candidates in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas, who have criticized the group for its spending in the Democratic primaries while – as Sanders said in Pittsburgh last week – “endorsing more than 100 Republicans, many of whom refuse to even acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election.The Vermont independent accused AIPAC of “hypocrisy” during a rally for House candidate Summer Lee.

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann noted that the group has made contributions to 120 House Democrats and said in a statement that AIPAC stands with members of both parties, “because there needs to be support bipartisanship in Congress to pass legislation that would advance [U.S.-Israel] love relationship.”

Rob Bassin, CEO of the United Democracy Project, cited several factors behind his spending: “High retirement rates, escalating campaign costs and hyper-partisanship, including a small group members of Congress elected in recent cycles who are outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party on the issue of US-Israel relations.” Bassin cited members like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). “This is an evolution of the campaign finance environment.”

In North Carolina, the AIPAC super PAC is spending at least $1.3 million on TV ads in an open seat to replace incumbent Rep. David Price (DN.C.), boosting State Sen. Valerie Foushee . She takes on former American Idol singer Clay Aiken and Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, a 28-year-old Pakistani-American who has the support of local progressive groups, the Working Families Party and Sanders.

“We need more people in DC who are going to stand up for working families, who are going to be accountable to the people of this country, not corporate PACs and special interests,” Allam said in an interview. “This growing influence of billionaires on our primaries is deeply troubling.”

Foushee’s campaign sent out a statement that noted, in part, that she was “one of dozens of progressive candidates and elected officials, including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and leaders of the Democratic Party…who received the support of AIPAC”.

Hoffman is also among major Democratic donors also heading into a pair of upcoming House primaries, under the banner of a super PAC called Mainstream Democrats. The group bolsters a pair of moderate starters, Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Oré.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), in their main challenges from the left.

Cuellar is coming under increasing pressure as the only remaining anti-abortion Democrat in the House. But the narrator of the new ad from mainstream Democrats in his district says Cuellar ‘has made it clear that he opposes an abortion ban’ – prompting a furious response from EMILY’s List, the rights group abortion supporting Cuellar challenger Jessica Cisneros.

The Hoffman-funded group is also trying to help Schrader fending off a challenge from Jamie McLeod-Skinner.

“Democrats and Democratic-aligned groups are finally catching up with Republicans in understanding the importance of electing the strongest primary candidates,” said Morgan Jackson, a longtime Democratic strategist.

Of course, Jackson added, “depending on who you talk to, the ‘strongest’ candidate changes.”

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