Home Hedge Funds Bakari Sellers-Affiliated PAC Aims to Unseat Rashida Tlaib

Bakari Sellers-Affiliated PAC Aims to Unseat Rashida Tlaib

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A new political action committee “dedicated to empowering urban communities to narrow the wealth gap between Black and White Americans” has picked its most prominent and first incumbent target this cycle: Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Launched in October by more than 40 Black business and civic leaders, the group, Urban Empowerment Action PAC, has labeled the challenge against Tlaib its “premier race” and plans to spend at least $1 million to unseat her, arguing that Detroit, a city that is majority Black, should be represented by a Black member in Congress. The PAC is primarily funded by billionaire hedge fund investor and philanthropist Daniel Loeb, though its initial founder remains unknown.

The slew in planned spending comes as top Democrats continue to fight against the party’s progressive wing with help from Republican donors and outside groups backing conservative candidates in both parties. Democratic leaders and outside groups aligned with them have spent millions so far to defeat progressives in several competitive primaries this cycle.

Tlaib is facing her second primary as an incumbent in August, having fended off a 2020 challenge from fellow Michigan Democrat Brenda Jones, who replaced former Democratic Rep. John Conyers after a special election in 2018. Tlaib’s supporters point to her wins for her Detroit constituents, including $15 million she secured for local community projects in this year’s House budget bill, her efforts to extend the child tax credit, and the pandemic aid funding she obtained for her district in 2020, when Detroit received the fifth-largest appropriation among major cities.

UEA PAC spokesperson Henry Greenidge told The Intercept that the group is targeting Tlaib because its “aim is to get Black candidates in office who will champion common-sense solutions that uplift Black people.” Greenidge said that because of Michigan’s recent redistricting, Tlaib “is running for a newly drawn seat where she is not an incumbent in the largest majority-Black city in America, a seat we believe should be represented by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.” The group is backing candidate Janice Winfrey, Detroit’s city clerk, who has slammed Tlaib’s vote against last year’s bipartisan infrastructure package and her criticism of U.S. military funding to Israel, which Winfrey supports.

Tlaib was first elected in 2018 on a wave that brought several progressives into the House, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; the two became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Loeb, the first and single largest donor to UEA PAC, has supported several conservative Democrats, including Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Shontel Brown, D-Ohio. A registered Democrat, he has given more than $1 million to Republicans so far this cycle and gave UEA PAC $150,000 in October.

In addition to Loeb, UEA PAC is backed by political pundit and former South Carolina state Rep. Bakari Sellers, who is also helping it raise funds. The group has spent $115,000 since late May backing Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Ga., who won her primary last month with more than 86 percent of the vote, and Democratic California state Sen. Sydney Kamlager, who led in Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary. In both races, the group has paid for direct-mail and digital ads from Tusk Strategies, the consulting firm started by venture capitalist Bradley Tusk, who supported Mike Bloomberg’s and Andrew Yang’s New York City mayoral campaigns.

The PAC also plans to support candidates Nykea Pippion McGriff in Illinois’s 1st District and Florida state Sen. Randolph Bracy in his state’s 10th District, but so far Tlaib is UEA PAC’s only incumbent target. Sellers told Politico last month that he didn’t have a particular “beef” with Tlaib but criticized her for voting against last year’s infrastructure package. Tlaib and several other progressive Democrats opposed the bill in protest of congressional leadership’s abandonment of their strategy to simultaneously pass President Joe Biden’s massive social spending package — which included the expanded child tax credit that Tlaib sought for Detroit families. Sellers told Politico that “somebody else can do the job better.” Sellers did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.

Tlaib has also long clashed with more conservative members of her party over her vocal criticisms of U.S. military support for Israel and human rights abuses in Palestine. Her public scrutiny of unchecked U.S. funding for Israeli occupation forces has made her a target of pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, of which Sellers is a close ally, and Pro-Israel America, which endorsed Winfrey in March. Tlaib is also facing a challenge from former Michigan state Rep. Shanelle Jackson, who has similarly criticized her stance on Israel.

Loeb has also contributed to AIPAC, giving $5,000 to the group in April alone. AIPAC’s new PAC, United Democracy Project, has also spent millions to defeat progressives this cycle and endorsed more than 100 Republican candidates who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Loeb also gave $125,000 in June to its counterpart, Democratic Majority for Israel PAC, which has also spent similar figures fighting progressives this cycle.

In March, Loeb gave $250,000 to the GOPaligned Congressional Leadership Fund, another $250,000 to the similarly aligned Senate Leadership Fund, and, since August, more than $340,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He has given more than $255,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee since January and contributed this cycle to the campaigns for Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker; and Ohio Senate candidate Jane Timken, who ran as a pro-Donald Trump Republican and lost in last month’s primary race.

Other major donors to UEA PAC include the Benoit Group, a real estate developer based in Georgia, and Striving for a Better New York, a PAC linked to New York City Mayor Eric Adams that backs conservative candidates and is funded by real estate moguls and Republicans. In April, UEA PAC received a $10,000 contribution from New Jersey attorney Calvin Souder, a partner at the firm Souder, Shabazz, & Woolridge Law Group, as well as $5,000 each from from Google Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy Wilson White, Google Vice President of Trust and Safety David Graff, and Ron Redwing, CEO of the Redwing group, a consulting firm based in Tennessee.

It’s not clear who actually started the PAC, and the only person listed on its filing documents with the Federal Election Commission is Treasurer Diane Evans, the CEO and founder of the compliance consulting firm Evans & Katz Campaign Finance Professionals.

Greenidge, the UEA PAC spokesperson, told The Intercept that the group is “proud to have the support of our numerous donors, including Dan Loeb, who are all committed to fighting for issues that are important to Black communities, such as voter empowerment, access to high-quality education, and creating greater economic opportunity.”

If they manage to unseat Tlaib, conservative Democrats would score a monumental win. The party’s conservative flank has railed against the growing number of progressives who have tried to push the party left, on issues from providing families with direct cash assistance to foreign policy in Israel.

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