Ex-Officials Sue Pro-Israel Lobby, PACs
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former U.S. officials seeking to erode support for Israel in Congress filed a complaint Thursday against an influential pro-Israel lobby and 53 political action committees, charging they had violated federal election laws.
The 100-page complaint to the Federal Election Commission was filed by one- time Undersecretary of State George Ball, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins, former ambassador to Qatar Andrew Killgore, former Illinois congressman Paul Findley and three others.
The complaint, supported by more than two dozen exhibits, alleges that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has overstepped its legal lobbying activities by targeting political candidates for election or defeat based on their positions toward Israel.
The complainants further claimed that AIPAC channeled funds and volunteers to such campaigns in violation of its registered purpose as a lobbyist. AIPAC has in the past denied such activities but declined to discuss the complaint, citing FEC regulations of confidentiality.
The complaint, researched by a major Arab-American organization called the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, demands that the FEC force AIPAC to register as a PAC and disclose its activities.
Such a ruling would hamper the effectiveness of the lobby, which operates behind the scenes to recruit support for Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. aid with $3 billion annually, and to oppose weapons sales to Arab foes of the Jewish state.
″AIPAC’s formidable ability to mobilize congressional support ... is based not upon an appeal to the American national interest but upon threats by a special interest that has resorted to conspiracy and collusion,″ said a statement by Richard Curtiss, formerly the chief inspector of the U.S. Information Agency and one of the plaintiffs.
But a brief statement by AIPAC said its ″members proudly participate in the American political process and do so within the law. We are confident the FEC will expeditiously concur.″
Curtiss and others have argued over the years that Washington’s policy is skewed in Israel’s favor to the detriment of U.S. standing in the Arab world, both politically and economically.
AIPAC and its supporters contend that Israel is the only stable democracy in the Middle East and a vital ally for the United States in the volatile region. They also point to broad support for Israel in public opinion surveys.
There are only a handful of pro-Arab PACs in the United States and they are outspent as much as 10-to-1 by the pro-Israel groups.
The complaint, the first against AIPAC in its 15-year history, also charges that the lobby coordinates the activities of dozens of PACs and uses them to channel funds to candidates. The complaint cites two internal AIPAC memos, one of which urges a colleague to ensure that pro-Israel PACs channel contributions to certain Senate candidates.
The petition also seeks to prove collusion between AIPAC and 53 pro-Israel PACs through their common cause and an overlap of their officials.
It is not uncommon in Washington for directors of PACs to be active on boards of special interest groups or corporations.
If the charge of collusion is accepted by the FEC, it could find that the PACs exceeded their contribution limits because the law treats all contributions by affiliated committees as though they were made by a single group.
The complaint, which also demands that the FEC order candidates to return such excessive contributions, cited the 1988 Rhode Island senatorial race, which the complaint contends was targeted by AIPAC through its allegedly affiliated PACs.
Lt. Gov. Richard Licht, who was allegedly supported by $172,000 from pro- Israel PACs, ran against incumbent John Chafee, but lost. Chafee, who voted in 1981 to sell AWACS surveillance aircraft to Saudi Arabia, did not receive a dime from pro-Israel PACs, the complaint alleges.
AIPAC’s attorney, noting that most of the evidence cited by the complainants is based on newspaper clippings and anonymous claims, said, ″There has been no effort to influence PACs; they make their own decisions.″ He declined to be named.
The FEC generally takes 30 to 45 days to decide whether to investigate a complaint.