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AIPAC money angers progressives in NC Democratic primary

Congressional candidates, from left, Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and state Sen. Valerie Foushee

Congressional candidates, from left, Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam and state Sen. Valerie Foushee

Money from a pro-Israel PAC that backed former President Donald Trump’s agenda in the Middle East is becoming a campaign issue in the Democratic primary in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, centered around Durham and Chapel Hill.

The flap led a local progressive group to publicly revoke its endorsement of one of the candidates over the weekend, as it questioned why she would take so much money from a group that also supported pro-Trump Republicans.

The group in question is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. The political action committee recently reported bundling $165,000 on behalf of state Sen. Valerie Foushee — essentially, collecting contributions from individual donors and then earmarking it for specific candidates, like Foushee.

Donors whose contributions through AIPAC went toward Foushee’s campaign included individuals both in and out of North Carolina, according to Federal Election Commission records. Over all itemized individual contributions to Foushee, not just those via AIPAC, 55% came from within North Carolina.

One of Foushee’s two main opponents in the primary is Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, who is the first Muslim woman to be elected in North Carolina. Allam is pro-Palestinian and has been critical of the Israeli government in the past, leading some to accuse her of being antisemitic — charges she denies.

“Our activists are strongly supporting Valerie Foushee and clearly appreciate her solid support for the US-Israel relationship,” said Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for AIPAC. “We never base our support or opposition to a candidate based on their religion or any other personal characteristic. Our focus is exclusively based on the candidate’s views on the US-Israel relationship. Valerie Foushee is a proud supporter of that relationship and Nida Allam is not.”

Some local Democrats have raised alarm about the fundraising report, pointing out that AIPAC also backed several dozen Republicans who falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was rigged or voted not to certify the results, siding with the mob that attacked Congress during that vote.

One group that had previously been supporting Foushee, the Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party, announced Sunday it had revoked its endorsement after she declined to disavow the money.

“They have endorsed a huge number of Republicans and given a lot of money to those who supported the Jan. 6 insurrection,” said Ryan Jenkins, the Progressive Caucus president, in an interview. “That’s just spitting on the Constitution. That’s abhorrent. And secondly, the track record of Palestinian human rights is even more abhorrent to us.”

In a statement over email, Foushee’s campaign said “the insinuation that she could be bought by any interest group or donor is outrageous and offensive.”

“Senator Foushee is a woman of deep faith and moral character, as anyone who knows her will attest. Her 25 years of elected service to her community speaks to her deep commitment to progressive values like voting rights, women’s rights, healthcare, education, and climate action,” the campaign said. “Senator Foushee is going to Washington to unify, not divide, as she has always done.”

In recent years AIPAC was a strong supporter for Trump to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal signed by Democratic President Barack Obama and several other world leaders. The lobbying group also pushed heavily for Trump’s controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel out of Tel Aviv, and into Jerusalem, even though most of the world views Israel’s presence in at least parts of the city as an illegal occupation.

Durham City Council member Jillian Johnson, an Allam supporter, wrote on Twitter that any candidate getting such a large amount of money from a single PAC is concerning, adding: “and when that PAC is a right-wing hate group that’s also funding 2020 election denialists, it’s a very, very big problem.”

Johnson previously stirred up controversy in a separate decision she was part of on the Durham City Council in 2018, when the city issued a statement against militarized policing that referenced Israel. The ensuing controversy led to multiple lawsuits and contentious council meetings. Some in the local Jewish community said rhetoric surrounding that move criticizing the Israeli government was antisemitic, a charge Johnson denied.

As for Allam’s campaign, it issued a statement to The News & Observer by email that didn’t directly criticize Foushee.

“What other campaigns do is up to them, but the true strength of a campaign is shown through grassroots donations and volunteer support, not PAC contributions,” said Maya Handa, Allam’s campaign manager.

Fundraising

Of the three main contenders in the primary, Foushee trailed in fundraising behind both Allam and former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken, according to the most recent reports, The News & Observer reported — even including the $165,000 AIPAC bundled on her behalf.

Aiken raised the most in the first quarter of the year, with $444,000. Allam was next with $366,000 followed by Foushee with $317,000.

Johnson said that while she respects Foushee’s service in the state Senate, she doesn’t feel she can trust her in Congress because so much of her campaign money has come from AIPAC.

“She’s been bought and paid for by people whose primary goal is to silence criticism of a brutal military occupation, even if that means funding insurrectionists,” she wrote on Twitter.

Whoever wins the primary is almost guaranteed to win the general election in November, since the district is one of the most liberal in the state.

Aiken, 43, would be the first openly gay member of Congress from anywhere in the South. North Carolina has also never had more than two Black members of Congress serving at the same time — but if voters pick Foushee, 65, the delegation could have three or possibly even four Black members of Congress after the 2022 elections. Allam, 28, would be one of the youngest members of Congress, one of few practicing Muslims and one of few of South Asian heritage.

While the Progressive Caucus is withdrawing its support of Foushee, Jenkins said the group is unlikely to endorse a different candidate at this point in the primary. However, he said of the eight candidates in the race, they now view three as true progressives: Aiken, Allam and Richard Watkins, a scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill who’s active in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro NAACP.

Database editor David Raynor contributed to this report.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, particularly the state legislature. In 2016 he started PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local issues in several cities and towns. Contact him at wdoran@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-2858.



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