The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been cleared by the Federal Election Commission of charges that it coordinates congressional campaign contributions made by various pro-Israel political action committees, which are barred by federal law from acting in collusion.
The unanimous decision by the FEC’s six commissioners was actually reached last December, but not officially released to the public until last week, after growing pressure from the pro-Israel community to have itself cleared from what AIPAC called “the complainants’ paranoid conspiracy theory.”
The FEC did not initially want to release its decision, because it has not yet ruled on a final issue: whether AIPAC must register as a political action committee. Unlike PACs, whose purpose is to make contributions to political candidates, AIPAC maintains that it is a non-partisan lobby for Israel in Washington.
An AIPAC spokesperson said the outstanding issue has to do with whether the 55,000-member organization is or is not technically a “membership organization.” The FEC is expected to make that decision at the same time it concludes a similar inquiry into other groups with large memberships that have some involvement in the political arena.
The charges against the pro-Israel lobby were filed in January 1989 by seven former government officials, with help from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. They alleged that AIPAC had illegally coordinated political contributions made by 27 pro-Israel PACs.
NEWER CHARGES ALSO DISMISSED
Among the seven was former Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill.), who has blamed AIPAC for his failure to win a 1982 re-election bid. Findley filed separate charges last July, alleging that AIPAC coordinated contributions to the re-election campaign of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who had appeared at AIPAC fund-raising events in Atlanta in June 1989.
That charge was also dismissed by the FEC, in a unanimous ruling issued Oct. 30.
Federal election law allows a PAC to contribute a maximum of $10,000 to a political candidate: $5,000 in primary elections and $5,000 in general elections.
The law prohibits PACs from coordinating their contributions, because that would create a “super PAC” with the ability to direct a series of $5,000 checks to a candidate.
AIPAC would have violated the law if it had been found to “establish, finance, control or maintain” more than one pro-Israel PAC.
The seven complainants alleged that AIPAC established, controls and maintains the PACs, but did not claim that AIPAC finances them.
But in a report by FEC General Counsel Lawrence Noble, dated Nov. 29, 1989, the FEC found “insufficient evidence” that AIPAC and the 27 PACs violated the law “by exceeding the contribution limitations” for PACs.
The FEC found some similarities among AIPAC and the PACs, including “similar patterns of contributions among some” of the PACs. It also found overlaps in membership between AIPAC and 24 of the PACs, with members of some PACs serving as AIPAC officers or as members of its executive committee or national council.
FEC rules, however, do not “preclude a person from participating in more than one organization,” Noble wrote.
‘STEADY STREAM OF UNFOUNDED ALLEGATIONS’
Noble also found that pro-Israel PAC members attend AIPAC’s annual police conference and receive AIPAC data on candidates’ voting records on pro-Israel issues.
However, “it appears that each respondent PAC makes independent decisions regarding which candidate to support,” Noble concluded.
The FEC also found that the “similar patterns of contributions” reflect the fact that the PACs charged “are primarily single-issue PACs focusing on candidates who support Israel.”
In other words, one would expect 27 PACs whose chief aim is to promote pro-Israel candidates to make similar contributions.
In examining lists of contributors to the PACs, the FEC “discovered that there was very little overlap between contributors,” Noble wrote. “For the most part, the respondent PACs primarily received contributions from individuals around their geographic location.”
David Ifshin, a Washington attorney who is AIPAC’s legal counsel, said the FEC rulings put to rest “the steady stream of unfounded allegations concerning AIPAC’s legitimate activities.”
But Findley was not so willing to concur, telling the Jewish Telegraphic Agency from his home in Jacksonville, Ill., that both the December 1989 and October 1990 rulings were a “miscarriage of justice.”
“The FEC has not been very diligent in monitoring the situation presented by the political action PACs that are devoted to the interests of the State of Israel,” Findley said.
But the AIPAC spokesperson revealed that the FEC was, in fact, so satisfied with the several thousand pages of documentation provided by AIPAC that it did not need to subpoena any additional information from the pro-Israel lobby.
Asked if AIPAC should have to register as a PAC, Findley said, “Oh, sure. They operate in the political field for and against candidates. I learned from someone I won’t name (at AIPAC) that at least 70 percent of all the resources of AIPAC (in 1984) were devoted to the defeat of (former Sen.) Charles Percy (R-I11.), so it is far beyond being just an information agency.”
The AIPAC spokesperson called Findley’s 70 percent figure “absolute nonsense” and said the pro-Israel lobby does not act in an “outright” manner on behalf of candidates.
REMEMBER: The JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published on Wednesday, Dec. 26.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.