TAYLOR, Mich. — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would not comment on the millions of dollars in super PAC spending transforming the Democratic primary between two members of her caucus — Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin of Michigan — when asked about it on Friday afternoon.
After a panel discussion Pelosi hosted touting Democrats’ work to pass microchip legislation, HuffPost asked the House speaker whether she had any reaction to the millions of dollars in super PAC spending in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District and Levin’s call for Stevens to reject the aid of United Democracy Project (UDP), a super PAC erected by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Pelosi responded first by condemning the 2010 Supreme Court decision enabling outside groups known as super PACs to spend unlimited sums in campaigns so long as they do not coordinate directly with candidates.
“Let me just say, I thought that Citizens United was one of the most undemocratic decisions in the history of our country,” Pelosi told HuffPost at a Detroit-area United Auto Workers union hall where the microchip legislation event took place. “It empowered all kinds of big money to suppress — to minimize the impact of other voters. But it’s there and we cannot tie a hand behind our back. If somebody’s getting attacked, they’ll probably fight back in kind.”
HuffPost followed up briefly to see if Pelosi had a specific comment on the spending in Michigan’s 11th.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going on here so I can’t speak with any authority on that,” she said before an aide intervened to end the interview.
In the wake of redistricting, Stevens and Levin, both incumbents, are competing for the Democratic nomination in Michigan’s newly drawn 11th district in suburban Oakland County outside of Detroit. The primary election is due to take place on Aug. 2.
There are many super PACs spending on both sides of the Levin-Stevens race.
UDP is the biggest spender by far, however, investing more than $3.3 million to help Stevens win the primary in the Democratic-leaning district.
Although Levin is Jewish and Stevens is not, AIPAC objects to Levin’s support for additional U.S. pressure on the Israeli government to speed up an end to occupation of Palestinian lands conquered in 1967. Levin has introduced legislation that would bar Israel from using U.S. aid dollars to entrench its occupation of the West Bank and other lands.
UDP’s big spending in Democratic primaries has elicited criticism because of AIPAC’s ties to Republicans.
Specifically, Levin has seized on AIPAC’s endorsement of more than 100 Republican members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results, and UDP’s reliance on million-dollar contributions from Republican mega-donors, as grounds to reject their support.
“To have them pouring millions of dollars into this race to defeat me, even as they are supporting for reelection [Republican Reps.] Jim Jordan and Ronnie Jackson and Scott Perry and even that [Barry] Loudermilk guy who was giving the tours to the insurrectionists of the Capitol on Jan. 5, the day before the attack — it’s just unconscionable,” Levin said at a press conference at his campaign headquarters in Royal Oak earlier on Friday. “It would be great if my opponent would step up and do the right thing and turn away this money and denounce this kind of interference in our politics.”
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a former co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, joined Levin at the Friday press conference to echo the appeal to Stevens.
Pocan argued that UDP’s intervention was fundamentally different in nature, both because of its use of resources from Republicans and the fact that its advertisements do not give the slightest hint that the group is focused on U.S.-Israel policy. He warned that other well-heeled Republicans and corporate interests could copy from AIPAC’s playbook for influencing Democratic primaries on a range of different policy priorities.
“It’s stealth campaigning combined with dirty oppositional money to create a Trojan horse within a Trojan horse, so to speak,” Pocan said of the spending.
Levin and his allies have not called on Stevens to reject the support of EMILY’s List, which backs pro-choice, Democratic women candidates. The group’s super PAC, Women Vote!, has spent over $2.2 mililion on Stevens’ behalf.
Levin has also benefited from the support of J Street, a more liberal pro-Israel group. J Street’s super PAC, the J Street Action Fund, has invested more than $700,000 in support of Levin’s bid.
At the Friday press conference, Levin rejected any equivalency between AIPAC and J Street’s spending, arguing that J Street’s intervention was a “purely defensive” measure in response to AIPAC. He also said that if J Street took big contributions from Republican mega-donors, he would reject their support.
AIPAC and UDP have justified their endorsement of Republican election deniers on the grounds that they are a bipartisan, single-issue organization. UDP also notes that it has received big checks from Democratic mega-donors, including entertainment mogul Haim Saban, who gave $1 million to the super PAC.
When asked about AIPAC’s support for Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results, Stevens campaign spokesperson Larkin Parker reminded HuffPost earlier this month that AIPAC had also endorsed Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and a majority of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“Rep. Stevens is proud of her unequivocal support of the Jewish State,” Parker said. “Her support from AIPAC is solely due to that view.”
Given Pelosi’s longstanding relationship with AIPAC, HuffPost asked Levin and Pocan whether they would also call on Pelosi to condemn the group’s involvement in the primary. Even when pressed though, the two progressive Democrats refused to do so.
“I’ll let Speaker Pelosi speak for herself, but I know that she campaigned for [former Rep.] Donna Edwards,” said Levin, referring to a recent Maryland primary where UDP spent over $6 million to defeat Edwards. “I assume she’s not super happy about the way that that huge amount of money rolled in there.”
Pocan argued that the onus is on Stevens, not Pelosi, to address it.
“Haley Stevens is in the perfect spot to stand up to this money,” Pocan said. “So it’s really incumbent on her to take that action.”