Pro-Israel PAC Floods Assembly Races With Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

The recently formed Solidarity PAC has mobilized big finance and real estate to target socialists and the Working Families Party.

Chris Gelardi and Julia Rock   ·   June 6, 2024
A hand places a ballot with the Solidarity PAC logo in a ballot box.
Since its creation in February, Solidarity PAC has become a quiet but major force in New York Assembly races. It has channeled at least $300,000 to its endorsed candidates. | Logo: Solidarity PAC | Illustration: Maha Ahmed

A pro-Israel fundraising group led by Republican and Democratic operatives has channeled at least $300,000 to nine state Assembly candidates in the Democratic primaries, according to a New York Focus analysis of campaign finance data.

Solidarity PAC, created earlier this year, boosts candidates “who value the American alliance with Israel” and are running against candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party, both of which have long called for a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza.

Since its creation in February, the group has become a quiet but major force in those races. In four of them, Solidarity PAC-directed donations have comprised at least half of its endorsed candidates’ total fundraising hauls — not including funds from New York’s public matching program — between March and May, New York Focus’s analysis found. In two others, the donations made up nearly a third.

Instead of contributing to campaigns itself, Solidarity PAC directs donors to a slate of candidates who share its “deep-rooted American values” and “continued support for” Israel, according to its website. The strategy allows the group to skirt the legal contribution limit for its candidates’ races.

The largest contributions have mostly come from people in the hedge fund, venture capital, and real estate industries.

“Wall Street, real estate — they’re coming after our movement,” said Queens challenger Claire Valdez, whose opponent Johanna Carmona has received at least $42,000 in apparent Solidarity PAC-funneled donations — over 58 percent of her haul since the PAC started fundraising. “They’re coming after us, not just because we’ve been standing for a ceasefire and for an end to the genocide in Gaza, but because we’re winning,” Valdez said.

Solidarity PAC is the first known state-level version of a pro-Israel political action committee like those run by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Democratic Majority for Israel, which have for years been a pivotal force against progressive candidates for federal office.

The committee is operated by officials from the New York Solidarity Network, a 501(c)(4) dark money nonprofit created in 2022 to “help pro-Israel voters make an informed decision about who they would support in a primary.” The nonprofit has published an online “Wall of Shame” of officials critical of Israel’s assault on Gaza, which the International Court of Justice is investigating as a possible genocide.

Neither Solidarity PAC nor officials with the New York Solidarity Network responded to requests for comment.

As Solidarity PAC has mobilized against candidates calling for a ceasefire, Israel has launched a deadly offensive — with US-supplied weapons — on displaced people’s camps in Gaza’s last remaining “safe zone.” Palestinian civilians have alleged torture in Israeli internment camps, and the Israel military has choked off aid to Gaza, leading to young children starving to death.

Solidarity pac’s website asks patrons to make a donation that the group splits evenly between the group’s own coffers and its endorsed candidates, though donors also have the option of customizing their donation distribution. In candidates’ filings, the contributions show up as donations from individuals, rather than from the PAC.

The fundraising model is common in federal elections, according to election law experts. In New York, state campaign contributors, including PACs, are limited to $3,000 per candidate in Assembly primaries. The PAC’s maneuver significantly widens the flow of money to races.

It also obscures the PAC’s true influence. On paper, Solidarity PAC itself hasn’t donated to a single candidate. In reality, it’s flooding Assembly races with cash.

Screenshots from Solidarity PAC's website, which directs users to split donations among the PAC's endorsed candidates. The first screenshot is a list of recommended candidates, and the second screenshot is the donation page.
Screenshots from Solidarity PAC's website, which directs users to split donations among the PAC's endorsed candidates. | Screenshots: Solidarity PAC | Collage: Chris Gelardi

The group has solicited donations for nine candidates in contested primaries: incumbent assemblymembers Michael Benedetto, Didi Barrett, and Stefani Zinerman, as well as candidates Johanna Carmona, Gabi Madden, Anathea Simpkins, Jordan Wright, Micah Lasher, and Kalman Yeger.

By comparing state data on donations to Solidarity PAC and its endorsed slate of candidates, New York Focus identified dozens of apparent PAC-facilitated donation packages dated between March 11, when the group started fundraising, and May 20, the cutoff for the most recent state Board of Elections filings. The contributions totaled nearly $380,000, about a fifth of which went to the PAC. The rest went to the endorsed candidates as individual contributions.

Although the total pales in comparison to fundraising by national pro-Israel PACs, which can spend tens of millions on a single congressional race, the money has made up a considerable portion of state legislative campaigns’ fundraising. And in some races, candidates’ hauls from Solidarity PAC alone nearly match their competitors’ total fundraising.

To identify apparent Solidarity PAC-affiliated donations, New York Focus matched contributions to the PAC itself with donations to its selected campaigns made by the same people, for the same amount, and on or around the same date. New York Focus also included three sets of identical donations made simultaneously to at least six Solidarity PAC campaigns that don’t include corresponding donations to the PAC; these donors did not donate to any other candidates. The analysis excluded sets of donations to five or fewer of the PAC endorsed-candidates, although it is possible those donations were also made through the PAC’s fundraising solicitation.

Anathea Simpkins, who is running to unseat the DSA-backed Brooklyn incumbent Emily Gallagher, received at least $39,500 in Solidarity PAC-funneled donations in the last reporting cycle, New York Focus found. Those donations made up 68 percent of her campaign contributions after the PAC started fundraising and rivaled Gallagher’s entire haul during that same period.

“There is no comment from this campaign, because the issues that matter to voters and working class people are not being covered in this story,” Simpkins’s spokesperson told New York Focus. “Unless you want to write a story about that, just stop.”

DSA-endorsed challenger Eon Huntley raised about $47,500 from March 11 to May 20. His opponent, Brooklyn incumbent Stefani Zinerman, received nearly as much as that — about $41,000 — in Solidarity PAC donations during the same time period, comprising half of her fundraising.

“Unlike my opponent, I’m funded by working class New Yorkers who are concerned about rising rents, underfunded public schools, and a lack of affordable healthcare,” Huntley said.

“Our belief is that those who are donating to the assemblywoman’s campaign are donating because they believe she’s the best person to continue not only the legacy of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, which is the 56th Assembly District, but also to continue to protect the rights of working families,” said a Zinerman spokesperson.

Sara Forman, Solidarity pac’s listed treasurer, was among the group’s first donors when she sent $25 each to the committee and seven of its sponsored candidates on March 11. Forman is also the executive director of the New York Solidarity Network, the pro-Israel nonprofit, and a former fundraiser for the influential EMILYs List PAC. On social media, Forman touts her Democratic loyalism, and frequently advocates for ousting progressives, whom she has called the “MAGA of the Democratic Party.”

Since Forman’s contribution, a majority of the Solidarity PAC-channeled funds that New York Focus identified come from donors in the real estate, hedge fund, and venture capital industries. Hal Fetner, CEO of Fetner Properties and a member of the Real Estate Board of New York, has given $10,600 in donations to Solidarity PAC and its candidates. The group’s filings describe Fetner as exerting “operational control over the PAC.”

Adeena Rosen, another of Solidarity PAC’s listed officers and spouse to an influential hedge fund manager, has given thousands to Republican congressional candidates, including former New York gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin. In March, Rosen contributed $30,000 directly to Solidarity PAC.

The PAC has roped in other players in big finance. Hedge fund manager John Petry and his spouse, Karen, gave Solidarity PAC and its candidates $48,000. Venture capitalist Robert Stavis — treasurer of the Anti-Defamation League — and his spouse, Amy Stavis, gave $54,000 total. Hedge fund manager Mark Kingdon, who gave $9,000 to the PAC and its candidates, is a Republican megadonor who has given tens of thousands of dollars to US Senate Republican candidates in recent years.

New York Focus was not able to reach Fetner, Rosen, Petry, Kingdon, or Robert and Amy Stavis for comment by publication time.

Another $24,000 came from Lizzie Tisch and $21,000 from Alice Tisch — members of one of the country’s wealthiest families — while Emma Bloomberg, daughter of the billionaire former New York City mayor, gave $19,000 to Solidarity PAC and its candidates.

The group has alleviated fundraising pressure for its endorsed candidates. After apparent PAC-affiliated funds started flowing to Queens challenger Carmona, for instance, her 2024 campaign contribution average nearly doubled, from $132 to $255. Valdez, her DSA-endorsed opponent, has taken in $43 per donation. If not for the Solidarity PAC-facilitated donations, Carmona and Valdez would have roughly the same haul this year.

“Campaigns should be animated by local voters and small-dollar donors,” said Ana María Archila, co-director of the New York Working Families Party. “Our democracy is in trouble when a single PAC — especially one with real estate and GOP interests behind it — is responsible for such a large share of a candidate’s fundraising.”

Chris Gelardi is a reporter for New York Focus investigating the state’s criminal-legal system. His work has appeared in more than a dozen other outlets, most frequently The Nation, The Intercept, and The Appeal. He is a past recipient of awards from Columbia… more
Julia Rock is a reporter for New York Focus. She was previously an investigative reporter at The Lever.
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