Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, and Tlaib listen outside U.S. Capitol building at night.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) listen during a news conference calling for a cease-fire in Gaza outside the U.S. Capitol building on November 13, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Sunrise Movement Going All Out to Back Squad Against Torrent of GOP Cash

"The amount of money the right-wing billionaires are spending to defeat the Squad is a testament to how effective they have been at transforming American politics and taking on the fascist right," one campaigner said.

The youth-led Sunrise Movement is stepping up to defend the Squad—a cohort of progressive House members—from a war chest of right-wing money being raised against their reelection efforts.

In an announcement late Thursday, the climate-focused Sunrise Movement said it was endorsing Reps. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tliab (D-Mich.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). The endorsements come as Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports reveal that pro-Trump billionaires have donated substantial sums to a super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that aims to unseat the Squad.

"The amount of money the right-wing billionaires are spending to defeat the Squad is a testament to how effective they have been at transforming American politics and taking on the fascist right," Sunrise political director Michele Weindling said in a statement.

"You can't claim to be a proud Democrat in the morning and then make backroom pacts with Trump donors in the evening."

Sunrise's statement comes amidst increasing coverage of AIPAC's efforts to fund Squad opponents through its United Democracy Project (UDP). UDP is an AIPAC-affiliated super PAC that spent more than any other non-campaign group on the 2022 Democratic primaries, throwing its money behind conservative Democrats challenging more progressive party members, as Alexander Sammon explained for Slate. For example, in 2022, the group succeeded in ousting Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who had introduced legislation to block U.S. funds from supporting West Bank settlements, and propelling his more conservative primary opponent, Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), to victory.

UDP is expected to ramp up its efforts against the Squad this year, as its members have been some of the most outspoken legislators calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. In the last six months of 2023, the PAC raised essentially as much as it did during all of 2022 at $35 million, HuffPost reported.

"Massive though it is, the dollar figure is actually less notable than who donated it," Sammon wrote.

Top donors include:

  • WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, who gave $5 million to UDP and $5 million to Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley;
  • Financier Jonathon Jacobson, who gave $2.5 million and has previously donated to many Republican candidates and committees including Mitch McConnell's National Republican Senatorial Committee;
  • David Zalik, who gave $2 million and has donated to Haley, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney in the past;
  • Former Home Depot CEO and frequent Republican donor Bernie Marcus, who gave $1 million;
  • Paul Singer, who gave $1 million and is well-known for sponsoring Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's vacations; and
  • Bob Kraft, the Trump supporter and New England Patriots owner, who gave $500,000 through an LLC.

Only one of the top ten donors—Haim Saban—is a regular contributor to Democratic campaigns.

"Why is a group mostly funded by Republican millionaires and billionaires spending tens of millions of dollars in Democratic primaries?" Justice Democrats asked in a fundraising email. "Because they want to sabotage our movement and unseat the most progressive members of Congress fighting to hold them accountable and change the status quo."

Of the seven Squad members endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, Omar, Bowman, Lee, and Bush are all facing primary challengers so far. The lawmakers are prepared to fight back however, and have reported record fundraising hauls. In the last three months of 2023, Tlaib raised $3.6 million, Ocasio-Cortez raised around $1.3 million, Omar raised around $1.6 million, Pressley raised around $155,000, Bush raised more than $485,000, Lee raised more than $987,000, and Bowman more than $730,000.

"Despite all of the attacks and malignment that these representatives have gotten, they pulled in record fundraising quarters, which shows progressive policies are still overwhelmingly popular," Usamah Andrabi of Justice Democrats toldThe 19th.

Bowman toldThe Associated Press that much of his funds had come from grassroots support from Arab and Muslim voters.

"The fact that amidst these AIPAC attacks, amidst us having a viable challenger, we have record-breaking fundraising quarter is because the Muslim community has felt erased and dehumanized throughout this process," Bowman said.

During the same quarter, AIPAC gave over $600,000 to Bowman's challenger George Latimer, making up more than 40% of his $1.4 million haul.

Weindling criticized Democrats like Latimer who accept right-wing money to campaign against some of the party's most prominent politicians.

"What's disappointing to me is that many establishment Democrats who have cried foul for years whenever a progressive challenges an incumbent, are aligning themselves with these Trump donors to unseat their fellow party members," Weindling said. "You can't claim to be a proud Democrat in the morning and then make backroom pacts with Trump donors in the evening."

Weindling said that the Sunrise Movement was "proud to once again campaign for these amazing progressive leaders."

"They have stood up to oil billionaires and Wall Street, and delivered billions of dollars of investments to their districts. We're honored to have worked alongside them to win legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act and force a deeply needed moral voice into D.C. policy debates," Weindling continued.

The group will offer support through fundraising, phone-banking, and get-out-the-vote efforts with younger constituents, beginning with a virtual phone bank for Lee on February 14.

"We're going to go all-out to mobilize thousands of young people and call millions of voters to send a message loud and clear: In 2024, choosing [to] back a genocide and choosing to do fossil fuel billionaires bidding is a non-starter in the Democratic Party," Weindling said.

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