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The curious AIPAC money dump

United Democracy Project — AIPAC’s super PAC — is spending millions of dollars in a safe-blue Maryland House primary. And nobody will say why.

UDP has spent $3.5 million on ads since April to boost state Sen. Sarah Elfreth in the 3rd District Democratic primary, according to AdImpact data. Elfreth’s top opponent on Tuesday is former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn. But unlike other primaries where pro-Israel groups spend heavily, there are no distinguishable differences between the main candidates on Israel.

The investment from UDP massively eclipses what the group has spent this cycle to oust some fervently anti-AIPAC candidates. On the Hill, Dunn’s own supporters — in addition to neutral Maryland House Democrats — told us they were in the dark as to why UDP is laying out millions to support Elfreth.

Dunn, who rose to prominence after delivering stirring testimony about his experience protecting the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, raised a staggering $3.75 million in Q1. Elfreth has lagged behind Dunn in the money game, but she has benefited from a plethora of UDP ads hailing her as an effective legislator on abortion rights and the environment.

By the numbers: UDP’s $3.5 million spend to boost Elfreth on the airwaves has eclipsed Dunn’s $2.1 million investment, per AdImpact data. Elfreth’s campaign itself has spent $817,000 on the air.

Notably, the UDP cash drop is orders of magnitude more than the group spent to oust Squad member and AIPAC antagonist Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) this spring. In Lee’s April primary, which she won by over 20 points, UDP spent just $65,000 on ads, per AdImpact.

And in New York’s 16th District, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) is facing a challenge from George Latimer, UDP has spent just $67,000 on ads to date. Bowman has long been critical of Israel.

Dunn has publicly expressed his support for Israel throughout the campaign. Earlier this year, Dunn told Jewish Insider that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” And Maryland Matters reported that during a campaign event this week, Dunn told a progressive activist that, “Israel is our ally and that’s what I’ll stand by.”

It’s hardly rhetoric you’d expect to anger the Israel lobby.

UDP’s stance: UDP spokesperson Patrick Dorton said in a statement that Elfreth is “the strongest candidate who most reflects the views of the district.” Dorton noted Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and key teachers and firefighters unions are behind Elfreth in the race.

Dunn has a star-studded list of endorsers of his own, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Whip Jim Clyburn and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. J Street, the left-wing group in favor of a two-state solution, is also backing Dunn.

“I definitely think that there’s a hypersensitivity to try to get specific types of candidates that are going to be focused on their specific issues,” Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), who endorsed Dunn, told us. “But overall, I knew Harry as one of my protectors in this building and I look forward to him continuing to have my back as a colleague.”

Lee, who has beat a pro-Israel Democratic challenger two cycles in a row, bemoaned UPD’s spending as “detrimental to democracy.”

“It’s incredibly problematic to have a group that seems to hyper-focus on Black and brown districts,” Lee said. “People in those communities are more deserving of their own representatives, but they have little opportunity to do that because they’re not able to compete.”

— Max Cohen

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.