Democratic establishment favorite Shontel Brown defeated progressive Nina Turner and several other candidates in a Democratic Ohio special election primary on Tuesday night, virtually guaranteeing her a seat in Congress. Brown received 37,666 votes, while 33,420 people cast their ballots for Turner.
Turner, a former delegate to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, raised more than twice as much campaign money as Brown, but Brown had a powerful ally give her a boost. Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), a super PAC, spent more than $1.9 million on TV ads, digital ads, and mailers that were either pro-Brown or anti-Turner, more than the $1.7 million that the Brown campaign has disclosed spending on the race as of its final spending filing, which covers through July 15.
DMFI’s ads made misleading campaigns against Turner, including a mailer suggesting that she did not support universal health care despite her support for Medicare for All being a key tenet of her campaign.
Brown’s surge of outside spending support in the final five weeks of the race correlates with her come-from-behind victory. Polls in the final weeks showed Brown consistently gaining ground against Turner, who held the early lead. The Hill reported that “Brown’s allies have attributed her jump in the polls to increased spending and advertising on their side of the race.”
In her concession speech, Turner blamed “evil money,” a likely reference to the outside spending in the race from DMFI and groups like the dark money nonprofit Third Way and Protecting Our Vote PAC that bought ads against her after using the Citizens United ruling to take large donations well above the amounts that campaigns can accept.
“I am going to work hard to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen to another progressive candidate again. We didn’t lose this race, evil money manipulated and maligned this election.”
DMFI is a pro-Israel group that has multiple ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The group’s president and treasurer Mark Mellman has been a consultant for at least two AIPAC affiliates, and several DMFI board members have previously held positions with AIPAC or its affiliate the American Israel Education Fund, including co-chairs Ann Lewis and Todd Richman.
Nina Turner has called for conditioning U.S. aid to Israel to “align with significant advances in human rights,” while Brown has said she supports continuing to give Israel $3.8 billion annually in military aid without any strings under a $38 billion aid package approved by the Obama administration in 2016. AIPAC has spoken out against calls to condition Israel aid on human rights measures, tweeting last June that a call to do so from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) “threatens the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that would damage American interests, risk the security of Israel & make a two-state solution less likely.” The letter suggested reducing aid by the amount that Israel spends annually to fund settlements and implement policies to enable them.
Brown also received $623,000 in campaign contributions from the AIPAC-tied Pro-Israel America PAC, a conduit group like ActBlue or WinRed that allows its donors to specify which candidates it would like its money to go to and can therefore doate to candidates without limits. The PAC was unveiled at AIPAC’s 2019 annual conference and is run by former AIPAC staff. Its chairman Jonathan Missner was AIPAC’s managing director for national affairs 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 Pro-Israel America PAC director, is an AIPAC member, and another board member, Gail Perl, is co-chair of AIPAC’s Women Council.
Sludge recently profiled the top DMFI donors who were disclosed in the group’s pre-special election FEC filing:
Amnon Rodan, the former chairman of the multi-level marketing dermatology company Rodan + Fields, has been DMFI’s largest donor this year, giving the PAC $145,000. He is married to billionaire Katie Rodan, who co-created the acne management product Proactiv. Amnon is a director of the American Israel Education Fund and a former AIPAC board member.
Stacy Schusterman, the chairman of Oklahoma-based oil and gas company Samson Energy, has given DMFI $95,000 so far this year. Samson Energy currently operates assets in the Denver Julesburg basin in Wyoming, where it owns drilling rights to over 70,000 acres. Schusterman is a prolific political donor who mainly gives to Democratic politicians and groups, but last year she also donated the legal maximum of $5,600 to Republicans Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Rep. Kay Granger of Texas. Stacy’s mother Lynn Schusterman is worth $3.4 billion, according to Forbes. Schusterman has been a major donor to DMFI in previous years, as The Intercept recently reported.
Victor Kohn, the president of investment company Capital International Inc., donated $50,000 to DMFI and the Kohn Family Trust chipped in another $50,000. Kohn’s past campaign contributions have primarily gone to Democrats, but he has also donated to Republicans including Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Andrew Viterbi is a co-founder of Qualcomm and the owner of Viterbi Group LLC, a venture capital firm that invests in emerging wireless communication and network infrastructure companies. He gave DMFI $45,000 this year. His son Alan Viterbia also gave the group $45,000. Alan is the CEO of Liquid Environmental Solutions and a former vice president of Lockheed Martin.
Barry Porter, the co-founder and managing general partner of private equity company Clarity Management, donated $45,000 to DMFI this year. Companies in the firm’s portfolio include oil and gas company Vaca Energy and copper mining company Skye Minerals Partners.
Alan Levow, a board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has given DMFI $45,000 this year. Levow is a principal at real estate company Crowne Partners, which manages several luxury multi-family housing units throughout the Southeast as well as multiple commercial properties in Florida. Levow is vice president of the American Israel Education Foundation.
Jeffrey Aronson, co-founder and managing principal at Centerbridge Partners, gave $45,000. Centerbridge Partners is a vulture fund that specializes in distressed debt and leveraged buyouts, and has been one of the biggest investors in Puerto Rico, helping to further austerity policies on the island.
Milton Cooper, founder of New York-based Kimco Realty, donated $45,000. Kimco is a public company that owns and operates dozens of shopping plazas throughout the country. Cooper is a member of AIPAC’s real estate division, which is an initiative to encourage members of the New York real estate industry to get involved in pro-Israel politics.