How AIPAC works, parts I and II

Part I:

At the Daily Beast’s Open Zion, onetime Ohio congressional candidate Angela Zimmann suggests her defeat had something to do with AIPAC:

Late in July, we traveled to Washington, where my campaign manager had scheduled a meeting with AIPAC in a spotless office on H Street. During the interview, I was presented with false dichotomies of the “you’re either with us—or you’re not” variety. I was asked to write a white paper showing my unflagging come-what-may support of Israel, her politics, and her military strategies. I found this deeply unsettling—how could I give a blanket endorsement for Israel when I was far from being able to do so regarding the policies and practices of my own government?

I can’t know what went on in that meeting, but I do know from past reporting on such meetings that AIPAC does not prescribe positions. It presents its own positions on Israel-related issues and it asks candidates to present theirs. These then are conveyed to AIPAC’s membership. And from what Zimmann describes as her own positions, it does not sound as if she would have earned a negative rating, although probably not one that was overwhelming positive either.

But Zimmann thinks she didn’t have the fundraising “juice” because her opponent, Bob Latta, was closer to to AIPAC. She raised $500,000 to his $1.2 million.

It’s not clear whether Latta achieved the differential through pro-Israel dollars. But what Zimmann does not get is that a major factor for pro-Israel donors in backing a candidate is incumbency. There are plenty of challengers who have hewed a more “pro-Israel” line but were unable to beat incumbents in pro-Israel fundraising. It takes a lot to drive pro-Israel money into a challenger’s camp. Latta, who defeated Zimmann 58-39, was a safe incumbent and not about to lose pro-Israel money to her.

Part II:

J Street is bailing on a Syria position, Adam Kredo writes today in the Free Beacon. Yes, this is the Free Beacon, which is conservative and does not like J Street, which is liberal, etc. etc. But Kredo uncovers something critical about how lobbies work in Washington:

“Serious organizations take positions on complex issues,” said one senior congressional aide who is familiar with the group’s lobbying efforts. “To consider yourself a leading pro-Israel lobby and just stand on the sidelines in one of the biggest fights about Middle East policy in recent memory is not serious.”

“I think [Hill] staffers would have more respect for J Street if they took a position, even if it was against” intervention, the aide said.

One of the most effective ways for lobbyists to accrue influence on the Hill is to convey to overwhelmed congresspersons and their staffers that the lobby has the expertise to help them arrive at an informed opinion. And if in addition to expertise, your lobby has a cadre of seasoned staffers who are able to shape a lawmaker’s concerns into legislative language that is likely to attract cosponsors and even achieve passage (the golden ring for a body that passes less than five percent of its proposed legislation), then you have influence.

That formula — expertise and the ability to shape passable legislation — has been key to AIPAC’s much vaunted influence over the years. J Street officials (at least on the record) insist they are not competing with AIPAC. Maybe. But they do want influence, and answering “We dunno” on Syria is not the way to go about earning it.

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