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Did AIPAC Pocket Its Iran Deal Fundraising Revenue?

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Last year, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) led the charge against the Obama administration’s efforts to reach a diplomatic resolution to concerns about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Indeed, in many ways, AIPAC became the face of the opposition to Obama’s signature second-term foreign policy initiative. AIPAC committed to spending $20-40 million in television commercials opposing the deal and threw its considerable lobbying weight against the agreement. In a dangerous gambit, it broke with longstanding tradition and participated in what looked increasingly like partisan opposition to the White House’s diplomacy.

As a result, AIPAC suffered a debilitating loss, severely undermining its ability to influence Democratic members of Congress. But AIPAC may have won in another, less publicized, manner: fundraising. Last year, the country’s biggest pro-Israel group set a record for fundraising. AIPAC’s charitable arm, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), which typically attracts the biggest donations and offers donors a tax deduction, raised over $80 million, nearly $27 million more than the previous tax year, according to financial disclosures reviewed by LobeLog.

The AIEF’s 2015 tax year ended on September 30, 2015, 20 days after the anti-deal campaign effectively failed when Senate Democrats filibustered a resolution opposing the nuclear agreement. Even though the group spent the year fundraising for the campaign to oppose the White House’s nuclear diplomacy, the AIEF spent only $705,718 more in 2015 than in the past year. The AIEF ended that tax year with a budget surplus of $31.5 million, $26.5 million more than the previous year’s surplus. The group padded their savings in the bank by an additional $30 million.

In other words, from all outward appearances, AIPAC’s fundraising arm effectively pocketed the boost in fundraising revenue enjoyed during the heated battle over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

That doesn’t mean that additional funds weren’t raised and deployed in the public relations battle that took place in 2015. The AIPAC spin-off group Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran (CFNI), led by Joe Lieberman, raised “nearly $30 million,” according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency’s Ron Kampeas. In a review of FCC filings at the end of September 2015, LobeLog identified at least $14.5 million spent on television commercials.

Neither CFNI nor AIPAC has yet disclosed its 2015 tax filings. AIPAC did not respond to a request for comment.

Even before the new financial disclosures showed the AIEF appearing to pocket the increase in fundraising, at least one former AIPAC official acknowledged that AIPAC might be using the Iran nuclear agreement as a fundraising tool. In July 2015, a “former AIPAC officials” told Chris Nelson, author of the private daily newsletter The Nelson Report, which is widely read by DC insiders, that fundraising was a major reason behind the group’s opposition to the nuclear deal. The unnamed official told him:

Chris, here’s 5 reasons why AIPAC thinks it’s right on Iran (i.e., to keep targeting Iran)

  1. Iran has been the group’s raison d’être for 2 decades and it doesn’t know what else to do; its troops are trained to attack Iran and the lobby can’t afford to admit failure lest it lose supporters.
  2. Iran has been an enormously lucrative fundraiser for AIPAC; just look at what they’re spending on this campaign alone.  It needs to keep the issue alive for institutional imperatives.
  3. Until this agreement was signed, AIPAC never had any competition. Everyone wanted to bash Iran. (It’s today’s replacement for the Soviet Union, Apartheid South Africa and Qadaffi.) Even with this agreement, Iran will continue to act in ways that make it an inviting target.  The Ayatollahs aren’t smart enough to stop chanting Death to America and stop threatening to wipe Israel off the map, practices which are a boon to AIPAC.
  4. Without this cause AIPAC and this Israeli government as well as their Republican allies may have to focus on more critical issue, like peace with the Palestinians.
  5. So Iran-bashing’s what Bibi and their big givers want…

And, in early September 2015, former AIPAC lobbyist Steve Rosen told Nathan Guttman at The Forward that AIPAC’s failure to mobilize Hill Democrats to oppose the deal was “a very bad moment for AIPAC.”

Rosen asked, “Where is the lobbying machine? What did all that money buy?”

For the AIEF, it appears that the boost in fundraising revenue went to padding the group’s end-of-year bank statement by nearly $30 million.

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