We Just Watched a Warmongering Lobbyist Group Buy a Seat in Congress

Rep. Jamaal Bowman lost his seat to George Latimer during Tuesday’s Democratic primary. AIPAC spent the last few months sinking more than $14 million into anti-Bowman ads after he called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Politics
We Just Watched a Warmongering Lobbyist Group Buy a Seat in Congress
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, left, and George Latimer. Photos: Getty Images

On Tuesday night, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) lost his primary to his right-wing, Democratic challenger George Latimer, who largely carried the wealthier, whiter parts of District 16 while Bowman decisively carried the Bronx. Throughout the primary, Latimer, a 71-year-old politician who’s said Bowman enjoyed an “obvious ethnic benefit,” fielded numerous criticisms of his positions on race—which include racist tropes portraying Bowman as an angry Black man in his campaign ads, and, as a Westchester County Executive, his failure to fulfill a federal mandate to desegregate the county. But the most jarring aspect of their primary and this outcome is what it tells us about the state of our alleged democracy.

AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) spent at least $14.5 million on anti-Bowman ads through its affiliated PAC, United Democracy Project, as of June 20, per Federal Election Commission filings. Some estimates appraise AIPAC’s total spending in this race as closer to the $20 million range. Latimer has stood strongly with Israel, even as the foreign country is estimated to have killed at least 37,600 Palestinians in Gaza since October, with tens of thousands missing, over a million projected to face starvation within weeks, and a miscarriage rate that’s consequently spiked by 300%. So a warmongering lobbyist group effectively bought Bowman’s seat, all because he called for a ceasefire in Gaza and criticized the atrocities perpetrated by Israel with our tax dollars.

This is an unprecedented amount of money, even in an American political system so deeply entrenched in dark money and corporate greed that U.S. election spending exceeds the entire GDP of several countries. But it gets scarier. AIPAC presents as single-issue, and has described its Democratic candidates as “strong pro-Israel voices who are also leaders in the Black, Hispanic, Asian American Pacific Islander, and Progressive Caucuses.” But it’s a dark money group with deep ties to far-right Trump donors and anti-abortion extremists. And all Democrats who accept its money are, by extension, indelibly tied to these right-wing forces, during a pivotal election year when the party will be running hard on abortion rights.

AIPAC has endorsed over 200 anti-abortion Republicans this cycle alone—including dozens who have voted for or even co-authored extreme, anti-abortion legislation like the Life at Conception Act to establish fetal personhood. According to a Politico report from early June, an outsized number of donors who have given to Democratic candidates like Latimer via AIPAC this cycle have given to anti-abortion Republicans since 2020. To be specific, half of these donors (46%) to AIPAC’s Democratic primary challengers like Latimer are also donating to anti-abortion Republicans this cycle. According to Politico’s review of campaign finance data, AIPAC is “the biggest source of Republican money flowing into competitive Democratic primaries this year.”

AIPAC has raised more money for Latimer than any other candidate, and that money came largely from about 1,800 donors, per Politico. Almost half of those donors (40%) have previously given to anti-abortion, Republican candidates. Even as Latimer publicly supports reproductive rights, he accepted millions in funding from the very donors building toward a federal abortion ban. 

And AIPAC isn’t done yet: Rep. Cori Bush’s (D-MO) primary is slated for August 6, and her challenger, Wesley Bell, has already received $2 million from AIPAC. Bush was one of the first members of Congress to call for a ceasefire, and she was also the first member to call for the repeal of the Comstock Act, which anti-abortion activists hope a Republican president will use to ban abortion. (On top of that, she’s one of few House members who’s shared her personal abortion story.) Bush is now in the middle of a competitive primary, challenged by a moderate, pro-Israel Democrat accepting scores of funding from anti-abortion donors (including AIPAC). 

Incidentally, just earlier this week, Bell tweeted and deleted a post misleadingly claiming to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood this cycle. He’s previously been endorsed by the group in other races, but the organization endorsed Bush over him. (Bell has since rewritten the tweet.) Bell originally ran for Senate against Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), only to transition to primary Bush. Additionally, Bell’s taken money from Hawley’s donors, Sen. Eric Schmidt’s (R-MO) donors, and donors who’ve given to the Missouri state lawmaker behind the state’s current total abortion ban, HuffPost reported last month. And if AIPAC has its way, he’ll unseat one of Congress’ most vocal abortion rights supporters, all for advocating for Palestinian human rights, too.

I hope Bowman’s defeat isn’t a preview of what’s to come. It certainly speaks volumes about AIPAC’s future and longevity that it had to spend nearly $20 million on a single House race; as numerous political groups supporting Bowman have pointed out, many of their ads avoided addressing Israel at all, because polls show the majority of voters want a ceasefire and the conditioning of military aid. Still, Bowman’s defeat is nothing if not ominous—it’s a reflection of what money can buy in American politics. And, perhaps most chilling of all, it’s meant to make an example of anyone who dares to speak out against an unfolding genocide.

Correction 6/26/24 6:50 p.m.: A previous version of this post identified AIPAC as a foreign organization. AIPAC is technically registered by Americans and funded with private donations. 

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