AIPAC’s Support For Election Deniers Becomes Flashpoint In Maryland House Race

Former Capitol police officer Harry Dunn called out AIPAC’s GOP ties after the pro-Israel group’s super PAC backed one of his opponents.

A former U.S. Capitol police officer, now running for Congress in suburban Maryland, is slamming AIPAC’s intervention in his race, noting the group’s support for dozens of Republicans who objected to certifying the 2020 election results even after the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

Harry Dunn, who endured anti-Black racism while defending the Capitol from rioters on Jan. 6, said the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the United Democracy Project ― a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee ― is spending in his race amounts to a threat to the democratic norms he fought to uphold during the infamous effort by violent demonstrators to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election.

“Every candidate for Maryland’s Third Congressional District should immediately condemn this dark money spending bankrolled by MAGA Republicans,” Dunn said. “Candidates who receive this support accept the endorsement of an organization that has backed candidates and members of Congress who incited the rioters I fought on January 6th and tried to overthrow our democracy.”

Dunn is also due to hold a press conference on Wednesday morning about “rejecting MAGA super PAC money.”

Harry Dunn (left) stands beside President Joe Biden before receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor, on Jan. 6, 2023.
Harry Dunn (left) stands beside President Joe Biden before receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor, on Jan. 6, 2023.
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

UDP is legally obligated to disclose its direct donors, but it may receive donations from corporations and nonprofits whose funders are not public. And while UDP is almost exclusively active in Democratic primaries, some of the super PAC’s top contributors are indeed Republican mega-donors like Bernie Marcus and Paul Singer. The group has already reserved $600,000 worth of airtime to support state Sen. Sarah Elfreth, a mainstream Democrat who was the leading fundraiser in the contest before Dunn’s entrance.

The spending, first reported by Jacob Rubashkin of Inside Elections, came as something of a surprise to observers who spotted no clear stakes for U.S.-Israel policy in the race.

Within hours though, news of the sudden cash influx had upended the May 14 Democratic primary in Maryland’s 3rd, which contains Annapolis and suburbs of Baltimore and D.C. It’s the latest example of how AIPAC’s aggressive approach to tamping down dissent from the establishment consensus on Israel and Palestine is rattling primaries in safe Democratic House seats.

In this case, however, rather than try to stamp out Dunn’s campaign, Dunn is very likely collateral damage on the way to stopping another candidate: John Morse, a labor lawyer endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday.

Morse has been a consistent and outspoken critic of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Following the killing of over 100 Palestinians seeking food aid in late February, Morse wrote on X, “The murder and starvation of innocent people must stop now.”

Dunn, meanwhile, has a mainstream pro-Israel policy platform, according to a non-public Israel policy paper obtained by HuffPost. In the paper, the composition of which is a rite of passage for Democratic congressional candidates, Dunn affirms his support for Israel’s right to defend itself following Hamas’s terror attack on Oct. 7, and vows to oppose legislation that places conditions on U.S. aid to Israel.

Seeing no reason for UDP to object to his views on Israel, Dunn argued that his staunch opposition to the outsize influence of concentrated money in politics elicited UDP’s ire. Dunn released his “plan to protect the people’s democracy” outlining his support for major ethics, voting rights and campaign-finance reforms on Friday. In the plan, Dunn forswore accepting any corporate PAC donations, and proposed among other things, the nationwide implementation of publicly funded campaigns and stricter disclosure rules for the funders of online ads.

“Right after I announced my plan to protect our democracy from outside special interests who try to influence elections, dark money was solicited into this race,” he continued. “These groups, funded by Republican extremists, are coming after our movement to protect American democracy. Congressman John Sarbanes spent his career trying to get dark money out of politics, now those same dark money groups are trying to buy this seat.”

Rep. Sarbanes, who is retiring this year, is the architect of the For the People Act, a sweeping ethics, voting rights and campaign-finance reform bill House Democrats passed when they had control of the chamber, but did not advance in the Senate due to Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin’s refusal to weaken the filibuster.

Thanks to his status as a Jan. 6 folk hero, Dunn is a major grassroots fundraiser, bringing in $2.7 million in his first three weeks as a candidate. The day after he released his democracy protection plan, End Citizens United, a Democratic campaign-finance reform group with fundraising heft of its own, endorsed him.

UDP denied that its intervention for Elfreth had anything to do with either Dunn’s views on Israel, or his position on campaign-finance regulations.

“While we appreciate Harry Dunn’s support for a strong US-Israel relationship, Sara Elfreth’s leadership on abortion rights, climate change, and domestic violence makes her a stronger candidate for the voters of Howard, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties,” Patrick Dorton, a spokesperson for United Democracy Project, said in a statement.

Explaining UDP’s decision to get involved at all, Dorton said: “There are some serious anti-Israel candidates in this race, who are not Harry Dunn, and we need to make sure that they don’t make it to Congress.”

Someone close to Maryland state Sen. Sarah Elfreth (right) denied that she was trying to appeal to AIPAC with her campaign's "red box." She was instead encouraging all outside backers to emphasize positive themes, the person said.
Someone close to Maryland state Sen. Sarah Elfreth (right) denied that she was trying to appeal to AIPAC with her campaign's "red box." She was instead encouraging all outside backers to emphasize positive themes, the person said.
Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Dorton would not say which candidates he was referring to, but Morse is almost certainly one of them.

Morse responded to news of UDP’s involvement by doubling down on his calls for a cease-fire. “I was the first and only person [in this race] to come out publicly for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza,” he wrote on X on Monday. “I stand by that now more than ever.”

Elfreth, who was the youngest woman ever elected to the Maryland state Senate in 2019, was the fundraising leader prior to Dunn’s entrance. She has the support of many of her colleagues in the legislatures, as well as key outside groups: the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, Maryland’s statewide teachers and firefighters unions, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. (Notwithstanding UDP’s spending, AIPAC has yet to make a formal endorsement in the race.)

UDP’s first TV spot emphasizes Elfreth’s record of accomplishments, which it says includes the passage of 84 bills in five years as a state senator. “With so much at stake ― abortion rights, the environment, our democracy ― we need a congresswoman who’ll deliver,” the ad’s narrator concludes.

The substance of the ad closely mirrors the contents of Elfreth’s “red box” ― the term for a public place where candidates communicate what they would like super PACs to focus on without running afoul of the law barring coordination between candidates and outside groups not subject to campaign contribution limits. The webpage, which in this case is not actually red, specifically cites Elfreth’s 84 bills, including the bills codifying abortion and making child care more affordable that are mentioned in the ad.

“Democratic primary voting women in Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District need to see, read, and see on the go that Sarah Elfreth beat a pro-life, NRA-backed Republican to become the youngest woman in Maryland history elected to the State Senate, where she became a champion for Maryland’s women, passing laws to protect abortion rights, to help victims of domestic violence, and to keep our homes and communities safe from gun violence,” the campaign writes on its “red box” webpage.

The Elfreth campaign declined to comment on AIPAC’s spending. But someone familiar with the campaign’s thinking said that Elfreth had no intention of directly wooing AIPAC or UDP with her “red box.” She simply wanted to ensure that any independent spending program focuses on her positive attributes, rather than attack Dunn, the person said.

State Sen. Clarence Lam and state Delegates Terri Hill, Michael Rogers, and Mark Chang, are among the many other Democratic contenders in the crowded race.

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