With New Ad Buy, DMFI Turns Its Sights on Another Progressive Candidate: Rep. Marie Newman

The ad points to a congressional ethics investigation into Newman's campaign. “This is just an ongoing march against progressive women,” Newman told The Intercept.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 18: Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., speaks with a reporter outside the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., speaks with a reporter outside the Capitol on Nov. 18, 2021. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“Say no to a corrupt politician representing us. Say no to Marie Newman,” reads a new ad running in Illinois, paid for by the political action committee for Democratic Majority for Israel. The ad is the first of several attacking progressive Rep. Marie Newman expected in the coming weeks. Newman is running in a member-on-member Democratic primary in Illinois’s newly drawn 6th Congressional District, which covers the suburbs west of Chicago. The race is one of at least six competitive primaries in which the so-called pro-Israel lobby has spent millions targeting progressives. 

In January, DMFI PAC endorsed Rep. Sean Casten, who currently represents the old 6th District and was elected in 2018. The group made a $259,000 ad buy in the district on Tuesday, its first media expenditure in the race, and started running the ads Wednesday. Newman’s campaign said it expects several additional buys from the group totaling six to seven figures over the next three weeks.

The ad against Newman accuses her of “promising a taxpayer-funded job to an opponent if he agreed not to run against her.” The Office of Congressional Ethics took up a probe against Newman last year after a right-wing nonprofit sent a complaint in May 2021. The group accused Newman of offering a future job to a local professor if she won election in 2020 if he promised not to run against her, a condition outlined in an email between the two released as part of the probe.

An initial OCE report published in January found “substantial reason to believe that Rep. Newman may have promised federal employment to a primary opponent for the purpose of procuring political support” and recommended the matter for further review by the House Ethics Committee. Newman pointed to the right-wing group behind the complaint and, in her deposition, said that they had never discussed him running for office and that she was “irate” when she received his proposal.

In a deposition to OCE in September, Newman said that after her initial bid to unseat Rep. Dan Lipinski, a conservative Democrat, failed in 2018, she was in talks with the professor, Iymen Chehade, about developing a campaign policy statement on Israel and Palestine. She said her lack of knowledge of the region was “one of the failures” of her first bid, which she narrowly lost by 2.2 points, and that Newman and Chehade had signed a contract in late 2018 in which she agreed to hire him if she won her next race. After she won in 2020 and didn’t hire Chehade, he sued her in January 2021. Both parties dismissed the case last June and settled outside of court.

Shortly afterward, the Newman campaign hired Chehade as director of foreign policy and research, even as he planned to launch his own campaign. He still works on the Newman campaign doing foreign policy research and giving general guidance and is currently a candidate in the Democratic primary in Illinois’s 3rd District.

Newman’s race is one of several in which the PACs for DMFI and its offshoot, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, have spent at least $5.8 million so far attacking progressives in states from Pennsylvania to Texas. “This is just an ongoing march against progressive women,” Newman told The Intercept, noting races in Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas in which “these very centrist and conservative Democrats, funded by Republicans, oftentimes with these super PACS, are working against progressive women. … So we’re just identifying that this is more of the same, this is their formula.”

The investigation has cost Newman in other ways; J Street’s PAC endorsed Newman in 2020 but declined to do so again this cycle after she came under the congressional ethics probe and decided to run against Casten.

Newman also pointed to a complaint filed earlier this year against Casten with the Federal Election Commission by a former constituent who accused his campaign of illegally coordinating with a super PAC funded by his father that ran ads against his 2018 Democratic primary opponent.

Casten’s campaign claimed that the complaint was filed by a Newman supporter in an attempt to downplay the ethics probe. “Marie Newman has once again shown she’s willing to do anything to distract from the fact that she is under investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives for bribery,” a spokesperson for Casten said.

Newman currently represents the 3rd District, which covers parts of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. But new congressional maps approved by the state last year shifted Newman’s home into a seat held by longtime progressive Rep. Chuy García and put more than 40 percent of Newman’s current district into Casten’s district, where she announced in October she would run instead.

Newman was elected in 2020 in her second bid to unseat Lipinski, who had opposed the party on the right to abortion, LGBTQ+ protections, and immigration over the course of his eight terms in office. Newman eventually beat Lipinski by just over 2,100 votes, even after Democratic consultants dropped her campaign in the wake of a policy by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to blacklist vendors who worked with primary challengers. (That policy has since been halted.) Newman has since been a vocal critic of human rights abuses in Israel and its reliance on military funding from the U.S. 

Progressives have been able to fight attacks from pro-Israel groups in several races, selecting Summer Lee in Pennsylvania and Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon to run in the general election for House seats, “but we can also see that they lose,” Newman said. Nina Turner, for instance, lost in Ohio after a barrage of spending against her.

“I’m just not having it,” Newman added. And while DMFI states that it is “pro-Israel,” its ads “talk about everything but Israel. So what is their real purpose? They’re not following their mission, for sure,” Newman said. She noted that her husband is Jewish and that groups like DMFI are “busy calling everyone an anti-Semite all the time, and yet they never talk about their mission in these super PAC ads that they execute. So what is your real mission? It feels like your mission is to tear down progressives, or someone that wants peace in the region.” 

Newman’s campaign released an ad Wednesday morning responding to the attack from DMFI without mentioning the group by name. “Hi, my name is Marie Newman, and unfortunately you’re gonna hear a lot of sh*t about me from my opponent, Sean Casten,” Newman says in the ad, “Sh*t,” which features a dog defecating. 

Newman notes that Casten voted for “anti-choice Republicans” like former President George H.W. Bush and has taken at least $1 million from corporate PACs. Her campaign has raised $1.3 million so far and is endorsed by a range of progressive groups including Justice Democrats, Emily’s List, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, as well as several local unions.

Casten campaign spokesperson Jacob Vurpillat declined to comment on the DMFI ad, but he criticized Newman’s ad and pointed to Casten’s endorsement by abortion rights groups and his 100 percent “pro-choice” record. He also said Casten voted for Bush in 1992 at age 20. “We’re proud of the positive campaign we have run, and it’s a shame our opponent cannot say the same thing,” Vurpillat said. “There is only one candidate in this race who has run negative ads, and that’s Marie Newman.”

Casten’s campaign has raised $2.7 million so far, including more than $46,000 bundled by Pro-Israel America PAC and at least $16,900 from the centrist New Democrat Coalition Action Fund. Newman and Casten share some endorsements from groups that endorsed most Democrats running this cycle, including Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Progressive Turnout Project, and NARAL. Casten’s campaign is also backed by several local unions, 314 Action, and the Jewish Democratic Council of America, as well as J Street PAC.

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