Outside groups are spending millions to influence Detroit-centric US House race

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Outside groups are pouring an unprecedented amount of money into the race for Congress covering most of Detroit, the Grosse Pointes and Downriver communities – at least $4.75 million so far and more to come with 11 days before the primary elections.

Right now, outside spending in Michigan’s 13th congressional district Democratic primary is focused on bolstering State Senator Adam Hollier and attacking State Rep. Shri Thanedar, largely by the through television ads broadcast by Detroit stations, but also through direct mail to likely voters.

“Never in Detroit have I seen that,” said Jonathan Kinloch, who chairs the Democratic Party for the 13th District. “I’ve been involved since the early 1980s as a teenager. I’ve never seen Detroit run for Congress with that kind of outside money.”

The biggest spenders are a super pro-Israel political action committee called the United Democracy Project affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (over $3.23 million) and VoteVets ($759,600), which backs candidates who are veterans, according to federal disclosures.

Additionally, the group Protect Our Future PAC said it spent nearly $757,000 on a pro-Hollier TV ad this week. The PAC, which supports candidates who “take a long-term view of policy planning,” is largely funded by FTX crypto exchange executivesaccording to Politico.

As the home stretch nears the Aug. 2 election, outsized spending by independent groups has made the nine-candidate contest look like a two-man race between Hollier and Thanedar, which has pledged $5.17 million in his fortune in his campaign and is the only non-black candidate in the field.

“This outside spending is, I think, a direct result of someone moving into the neighborhood and trying to buy it up with $5 million,” Hollier told the Detroit News. “Community leaders are rallying around me and saying this is unacceptable and leveraging their national connections.”

“I think people recognize that this self-funding trend can only be fought with real investment from people who want to see good government,” he added.

Hollier attributes the outside interest to his “well-connected” supporters who want to see Michigan continue to have a black lawmaker representing Detroit in Congress as U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, retires.

“These are professionals who run and win races all over the country and don’t invest those kinds of sums unless they believe they’re supporting a candidate with the possibility of winning,” Hollier said.

Thanedar said he doesn’t see the outside spending as a reaction to his self-funding, but as an effort by Republican-funded interests to sway the election toward a business-friendly Democrat aligned with AIPAC’s hawkish stance on Israel.

He called on Hollier to expose the UDP for accepting donations from GOP megadonors, for “interfering” in the Democratic primaries with negative ads and for targeting progressive candidates in particular.

“What we hate is black money interfering with the democratic process,” Thanedar told The News. “They’re coming in with a big amount of money in this run to disrupt, and I think what they’re spending is regardless of the opponent’s financial situation.”

Thanedar added: “They come in and interfere in a primary to get a favorable outcome for them. I still won’t accept any corporate PAC money, even if the UDP is going to spend more than my campaign.”

After a brief photo portrait session, State Representative Shri Thanedar decides to pull out a sign and greet potential voters on Livernois Avenue in Detroit, Michigan on July 18, 2022.

Thanedar said voters on the campaign trail don’t raise Israel as a priority issue, so he struggles to understand why a pro-Israel group is meddling in the race.

“I think they really want a loyal congressman,” Thanedar said. “It’s an investment on their part to get a congressman they can control who will fight for them.”

Hollier’s opponents often link his 2018 vote to build a tunnel to contain line 5 for its support of pipeline owner Enbridge’s CAP. In response, Hollier noted that the tunnel construction project would create a multi-year employment opportunity for workers in Michigan.

Another candidate, attorney Portia Roberson, said she was also concerned about what outside groups expect from Hollier in terms of return on investment.

“It bothers me that some of my opponents are willing to accept support and money from organizations that are very clear that they oppose what is most important to families in this district,” Roberson said, citing support from the Michigan Chamber’s Hollier. of Commerce who opposed increases in the minimum wage.

“I don’t always say outside spending is a bad thing, but I think people and voters need to look at what the agenda of the group that’s spending that money is.”

Hollier said he had no involvement with the outside groups’ announcements and pointed out that as a candidate he could not legally coordinate with them under the law. He also rejected Thanedar’s request to speak out against UDP’s negative publicity, pointing to Thanedar’s own negative ads targeting him.

“The question is not whether you should take the money. The question is, does the money determine what you will do?” Hollier said.

“And I, unlike the majority of people in this race, have a record of votes for and against people who have supported me. I accept the money because it is an indication that they believe that I’m the best candidate to win, and that I’m going to win, and I don’t think about that in any way when I vote or do my job.

Portia Roberson

Hollier said he expects to have gained support from the UDP because of his work to build relationships in the local Jewish community and his position that Israel is a strategic and important partner for the national security of the United States.

He dismissed criticism of AIPAC for endorsing Republicans who voted against certification of the 2020 election results, noting other PACs that have also done so, such as the Credit Union National Association.

“AIPAC supports Democrats and Republicans, and they support people based on one issue,” Hollier said. “I’m grateful that they support me, and I think it’s hypocritical to claim that black money is the problem. The problem is money in politics, isn’t it? On both sides .”

United Democracy Project did not respond to a request for comment. but the group may have taken note of a State House resolution that Thanedar co-sponsored last year that called Israel an “apartheid” state. The measure, introduced in May 2021 amid deadly fighting in Gaza, also calls on Congress to end its financial support for the Israeli military.

“I didn’t agree word for word with that resolution, but it was a time of heightened violence, and I wanted to support peace efforts, as did President Biden,” Thanedar said.

“But it’s not about one particular policy. The UDP and AIPAC have spent millions bringing down progressive candidates and even backing candidates who didn’t vote to certify the election. It it’s about funding candidates they can buy off like Adam.”

Kinloch believes the UDP is trying to prevent the potential congressional election of another critic of Israel in light of the 13th’s current representative, US Representative Rashida Tlaib of Detroit – a Palestinian American who opposed US arms sales to Israel.

“What they’re trying to do is exactly what they say they’re trying to do: have a very strong pro-Israel politician in the United States Congress,” said Kinloch, who backs Roberson in the primary.

“I think what they also realize is that they missed the mark in 2018 when Congressman (John) Conyers resigned, and they basically didn’t run for that election in a way that absolutely could have made a difference” when Tlaib first showed up.

Kinloch said Hollier shouldn’t be blamed for outside money because candidates can’t coordinate with the groups spending it. But he expects the ads will surely sway some voters.

“It can make all the difference,” Kinloch said. “If all they hear is Thanedar and Hollier and a few names from Portia Roberson, those are the people they’re going to think about while they’re voting.”

The UDP is also spending big in Oakland County’s 11th District primary, where incumbents Andy Levin and Haley Stevens face off in a heated primary.

Levin’s supporters are asking Stevens to drop AIPAC’s involvement. The UDP has spent at least $3.4 million so far on pro-Stevens and anti-Levin ads, according to federal disclosures.

Overall outside spending in the 11th was over $6 million, counting other outside groups such as Women Vote!, an affiliate of EMILY’s List; Green Peace; Friends of the Earth; and J Street Action Fund, which is a UDP rival group that invested over $700,000 in an ad attacking Stevens.

Another pro-Israel group is spending against Tlaib in the 12th District, where she faces her main opponents in her bid for a third term in the US House of Representatives.

Urban Empowerment Action PAC has so far spent $200,000 running an anti-Tlaib ad and plans to spend $750,000 to boost one of its opponents, Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey.

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