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AIPAC and the Federal Election Commission

Reviewing AIPAC’s history since its 1963 creation reveals a consistently well-organized campaign of manipulation and evasion of the US election law as one necessary ingredient to its invincible image on Capitol Hill. The American Israel Political Affairs Committee has long claimed it is not a political action committee, that they do not endorse candidates nor provide financial donations to political campaigns. As with all things involving AIPAC, there is another side to the story.

As the result of a 1988 Sixty Minutes interview by Mike Wallace, it became clear that AIPAC had a long history of involvement in US electoral politics as it targeted non-AIPAC members of Congress for defeat with the use of “80 shell-front pro-Israel PACs.” Unfortunately, Wallace never inquired whether AIPAC was in compliance with the Federal Election Commission laws. It comes as no surprise to know they were not and continue to resist efforts at accountability or adhering to the standard rule of registering as a foreign entity.

Soon after Sixty Minutes aired, a memo written by AIPAC’s Deputy Political Director Elizabeth Schrayer in1986 became public. In that memo, Schrayer instructed her assistant to direct AIPAC affiliated PAC’s; that is those PACs with non- identifiable AIPAC names, to channel political donations into the campaigns of AIPAC’s favored candidates. The Wall Street Journal would later estimate that AIPAC donated more than $7 Million to candidates during the 1986 election cycle in violation of US election law.

The Sixty Minutes interview and Schrayer’s memo provided the necessary incentive for legal efforts to require AIPAC to conform to US election law. An Administrative Complaint was filed in 1989 with the Federal Election Commission on behalf of seven retired US Government officials citing a “consistent, long-standing pervasive pattern of violating numerous provisions” of Federal Election Campaigns Act of 1971 and that these “violations are part of a concerted effort to influence Congress to take actions that favor the state of Israel.”

The Complaint Petitioners included former US Ambassadors James Akins and Andrew Killgore, former Deputy Secretary of State George Ball, former USIA Richard Curtis, former US Rep. Paul Findlay, Robert Hanks, ret.US Navy Admiral, and former Amideast President Orin Parker.

In addition, the Complaint identified 24 pro-Israel PACs that acted as shell-front affiliates and participated in a ‘campaign of collusion” in order to evade FEC’s legal reporting requirements. With the participation of innocuous sounding PAC’s such as San Franciscans for Good Government PAC or the Desert Caucus, all of which were organized by AIPAC from the ground up, AIPAC was able to funnel generous contributions beyond the $10,000 legal limit per PAC. AIPAC’s cover was sufficient to influence the outcome of numerous elections without the donation being publicly attributed as pro-Israel. AIPAC alleged that the affiliated PACs were part of its membership and not a political organization as it refused the FEC request to open their financial records for inspection.

From its 1989 filing, the Complaint took a complicated and circuitous route between the FEC and the Courts over the next twenty years. The initial FEC ruling found ‘probable cause’ that although AIPAC had violated elements of federal election law by spending money to influence elections, it found that electoral politics was not a ‘major purpose’ of the organization. Therefore, the FEC determined there was no need for AIPAC to register as a political action committee.

Litigation took the Complaint to a federal District Court, followed by a three member Court of Appeals panel, both of which sided with the FEC until a full Circuit Court of Appeals 8-2 decision ruled in favor of the Complainants in 1996. That decision found that the ‘major purpose’ clause was inapplicable, it ordered the FEC to enforce US election law and require AIPAC to comply with federal disclosure requirements. The case was then remanded back to the FEC – even though the FEC had “misapplied the law” in its 1992 decision.

At some point after the original Complaint was filed, AIPAC shrewdly made ‘structural changes’ to its definition of membership which strengthened the argument that they were predominately a membership organization. At about the same time, the FEC also revised its membership regulations to a looser standard. It was all a brilliantly manipulative legal move as AIPAC claimed its outreach to affiliated PACs was only communicating with its ‘members.’

The US Solicitor General Seth Waxman appealed the Court of Appeals decision on behalf of the FEC to the Supreme Court which “declined to decide the case on the merits” with Justice Antonin Scalia writing the dissent. In 1998, the Supreme Court vacated the earlier Circuit Court decision and remanded the case back to the FEC pending a review of the new membership definition for a final determination – and you can guess how that went.

The litigation continued until 2001 when the Complainants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment filing a Statement of Material Facts Not in Genuine Dispute which reads, in part, like a political thriller with details of AIPAC targeting identified Members of Congress.

Meanwhile, the Commission decided that “further investigation would not be an appropriate use of the Commission’s limited resources” and in “an exercise of prosecutorial discretion ,” the Commission on a 6-0 vote closed the file.

The final bitter end of litigation did not come until September, 2010 when a federal District Court Memorandum Opinion regurgitated the entire convoluted twenty year history in excruciating detail.

This is not a complete list but it is, from an earlier era, AIPAC’s most successful efforts to defeat elected Members of Congress who did not support the Israeli agenda. It is an impressive list: Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark) in 1974, Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill) and Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey (R-Calif) in 1982, Senators Charles Percy (Ill), Sen. Harrison Schmitt (NM) and Walter Huddleston (Ky) in 1984, James Abdnor (R-SoD) in 1986 and Sen. Chic Hecht (Nevada) in 1988. In 1990, Representative Gus Savage (D-Ill) took to the House floor and exposed how AIPAC had attempted to sabotage his re-election including the use of non-AIPAC shell-front PACs to fund his opposition. And more recently Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s primary defeats in 2002 and 2006 were attributed to AIPAC opposition.

During the 1988 Sixty Minutes interview, AIPAC Executive Director Tom Dine boasted that “‘All the Jews in America from coast to coast gathered to oust Percy, and the American politicians – those who hold public positions now and those who aspired – got the message.’”

Today, there is little doubt that Tom Dine’s message has been heard loud and clear as today’s Members of Congress cower and acquiesce to AIPAC’s insatiable demands as the organization has refined its efforts with substantial donations and whatever it takes to assure the election of candidates who are, first and foremost, loyal to Israel.

In other words, thanks to the FEC, Israel owns the US Congress.

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Renee Parsons has been a member of the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist and staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC. She can be found on Twitter @reneedove31

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