In the aftermath of Senate Republicans’ failed efforts to derail the plan agreed on in July to limit Iran’s nuclear program, responsibility has fallen on AIPAC for its inability to persuade a meaningful number of Senate Democrats to join their GOP colleagues in opposing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
To put it bluntly, AIPAC, a group with historically stronger ties to the Democratic Party, failed miserably.
Only four Senators—Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Joe Manchin (D-WV)—broke ranks with their colleagues and minority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) to oppose the nuclear deal. But AIPAC didn’t fail on the cheap. They raised and spent a staggering sum of money in an effort to tilt public opinion against the White House’s signature second-term foreign policy initiative.
This summer, AIPAC announced the formation of a new dark money group, “Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran,” dedicated exclusively to opposing the emerging nuclear deal with Iran. The Jewish Telegraph Agency’s Ron Kampeas reported that the group raised “nearly $30 million.” After a review of over 700 FCC disclosures, helpfully tagged by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation’s “political ad sleuth,” we can confirm that the AIPAC spin-off spent at least $14.5 million on television commercials airing on broadcast television networks (ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS) from mid-July until mid-September. This period coincides with the intensive two-month lobbying period from the announcement of the JCPOA in Vienna to the failure of the Senate resolution of disapproval.
These numbers don’t take into account the cost of ad buys on cable networks and any lag in the Sunlight Foundation’s Political Ad Sleuth’s tagging of relevant FCC filings. But the broad outlines of AIPAC’s well-moneyed opposition to the Iran deal indicate that the pro-Israel group quickly raised a significant amount of money to blanket the airwaves with anti-deal television commercials, dwarfing any efforts by J Street or other pro-deal groups to air competing ads.
That $14.5 million in television ad buys focused heavily on the DC area. Over $3 million was spent on television commercials in Virginia, DC, and Maryland, presumably reaching many of Maryland Senator Ben Cardin’s constituents as well as Hill staffers residing in the broader Beltway region.
AIPAC’s group made the overwhelming majority of the broadcast television ad buys, with smaller anti-deal groups such as United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), Veterans Against the Deal, and the American Security Initiative making only token ad buys during the intense weeks of debate over the summer.
UANI spent approximately $190,000 on ad buys, all in Pennsylvania. Veterans Against the Deal bought approximately $47,000 in ad buys in Montana and Virginia. The American Security Initiative spent approximately $21,000 on ad buys in Oregon.
AIPAC won the money game, almost certainly raising and spending more money than any other group supporting or opposing the JCPOA. But after spending $14 million on broadcast television ad buys (and probably many million more for commercials on cable news networks), and only persuading four Democrats to break ranks with Senate colleagues, AIPAC leadership may face donors asking pointed questions about how their contributions were spent.