In his closely watched primary race against middle school principal Jamaal Bowman, Rep. Eliot Engel’s (D-N.Y.) top donor is an organization that has endorsed and fundraised for some of the most powerful Republicans in Congress who work to block progressive policies that Engel says he supports.
The Pro-Israel America PAC, which serves as a conduit for individual donors and is not subject to the standard contribution limit for multicandidate PACs of $5,000 per election, has given Engel at least $127,981 since January 1, 2019, according to Federal Election Commision records reviewed by Sludge. No entity has ever given Engel anywhere near that amount to any of his re-election campaigns over the course of his 31 year career.
The organization, which says its mission is to support the election of pro-Israel candidates, was unveiled at the 2019 annual conference of America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group that was created in the 1950s after the Israeli Army’s massacre of dozens of Palestininan civilians in the village of Qibya.
While Pro-Israel America PAC does not appear to have a formal relationship with AIPAC, the two groups have close ties through personnel. Jonathan Missner, a partner at corporate law firm Stein Mitchell Beato & Missner and the chairman of the boards of directors for Pro-Israel America PAC, was managing director for national affairs at AIPAC from 2004 until 2014. Jeff Mendelsohn, Pro-Israel America PAC’s founder and exeutive director, was national outreach director for AIPAC for more than ten years until 2016. Tony Davis, a board member at Pro-Israel America PAC, is an AIPAC member, and another board member, Gail Perl, is currently co-chair of AIPAC’s Women Council.
In addition to Engel, Pro-Israel America PAC has raised money this cycle for Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and far-right GOP senators who reliably side with Mitch McConnell to block Democratic bills, including Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), David Perdue (Ga.), and Joni Ernst (Iowa).
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Engel has received more money from Pro-Israel America PAC this cycle than all but one other candidate—Antone Meltion-Meaux, who is running a primary camapign against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
As chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Engel’s foreign policy positions are more hawkish than most Democrats. In 2006, he urged Congress defund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, in 2017 he co-sponsored the Anti-Israel Boycott Act, which prohibits U.S. companies from joining boycotts of Israel called for by international organizations like the United Nations, and in 2018 backed President Trump’s decision to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. In 2015, Engel was one of 25 House Democrats to vote against Obama’s Iran deal.
Pro-Israel America PAC follows a long history of political action committees that work alongside AIPAC, which does not donate to politicians, to funnel money from the group’s supporters to the campaigns of candidates it supports while keeping the funding from being directly tied to the lobbying group. As a 2014 New Yorker article explains, AIPAC helped to form multiple PACs in the eighties, usually run by AIPAC members, that had no formal relationship to the group but would look to it for direction on which candidates to support. Until recently, AIPAC’s website had a page for its Congressional Club, which directed members to give at least $5,000 per cycle “in a clearly pro-Israel context” in order to receive exclusive benefits. AIPAC raises more than $100 million per year from donors, according to the Wall Street Journal, and spends millions on lobbying Congress and hosting congressional trips to Israel.
Several donors who have given maximum legal amount or near-maximum amounts to Engel through the Pro-Israel America PAC are prominent AIPAC members, according to a Sludge review. They include members of AIPAC’s national real estate committee, the president of AIPAC Louisiana, and the chairman of the AIPAC Tomorrow Campaign, a planned giving and endowment initiative.
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Some of the donors also have histories of giving to Republicans. Real estate investor Mark Rubin, who gave Engel $4,800 through Pro-Israel America PAC, has donated this cycle to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas). Steve Hilton, who gave Engel $1,500 through the PAC, has also donated this cycle to Republican Sens. David Perdue (Ga.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Ben Sasse (Neb.), Steve Daines (Mont.), and others.
The Pro-Israel America PAC is not the only AIPAC-tied group backing Engel’s re-election campaign. A super PAC called Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) has spent more than $1.5 million on ads, phone banking, and mailers that support Engel or oppose Bowman. DMFI is run by Mark Mellman, whose consulting firm has been hired by AIPAC and an affiliated nonprofit, the American Israel Education Fund.
As The Intercept reported, DMFI took $100,000 from a GOP-affiliated super PAC called Americans for Tomorrow Future in the days before it began backing Engel. The super PAC’s treasurer is David Satterfield, a campaign finance compliance consultant at Huckaby Davis Lisker who works with dozens of conservative PACs and who is the custodian of records for Pro-Israel America PAC. Satterfield’s firm is working with the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle, as well as the campaign of Mitch McConnell.
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