The Emergency Committee for Israel, which recently accused President Obama of “blaming Israel first” in full-page major media ads, is taking a pioneering role in the new world of campaign finance spawned by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark Citizens United decision.
Among the advocacy groups fighting for the Jewish vote in 2012, ECI is the only one to have formed its own Super PAC, a new kind of campaign finance committee that is allowed to take contributions and make expenditures without limit so long as it remains formally independent of any candidate or political party.
ECI’s Super PAC, established in 2010, has seen little use since the election cycle of that same year. But its existence suggests that ECI’s political strategy is focused more on campaign messaging than on influencing policy. The Super PAC’s filings also indicate that the group is reliant on a few major donors rather than on broad grassroots support.
Besides its recent anti-Obama ads, ECI, which was also founded in 2010, made large ad buys in a few major 2010 midterm races and special elections. But unlike its dovish opponent J Street, ECI’s strategy doesn’t call for spending time on the traditional occupations of advocacy groups, such as currying favor with incumbents or building a grassroots operation.
“We aren’t interested in funneling money to candidates to induce them to take positions they might not otherwise take,” wrote Michael Goldfarb, ECI’s treasurer and a public relations executive with Orion Strategies, in an email to the Forward. “We believe that the vast majority of Americans are pro-Israel and that if there is a real contrast on this issue between the two candidates in any given race, voters will make the right choice if they have all the information before them.”
Founded in July 2010, ECI is guided by William Kristol, a prominent neoconservative and editor of The Weekly Standard, a right-wing opinion journal. A one-time booster of Sarah Palin, Kristol has close ties to the Republican establishment. The ECI board is rounded out by prominent evangelical and former GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Rachel Abrams, wife of Republican foreign policy stalwart Elliot Abrams. The group’s executive director is Noah Pollak, a former editor at Azure, a journal published by the Israel-based Shalem Center.
ECI itself is incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization. Such groups are allowed by the IRS to engage in political campaigning so long as they do not spend more than half their expenditures on political activity. But ECI’s associated Super PAC, called the Emergency Committee for Israel PAC, faces no such limits.
Super PACs first appeared in early 2010 following the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and constitute a sort of Wild West of election law, unfettered by the complex limits and spending requirements that restrict traditional political action committees and 501(c)(4)s.