Mystery deepens after new PAC uses loopholes to hide donors in Oregon primary

The wait to find out who the donors are behind an obscure political group that has paid $3.2 million to attack Susheela Jayapal, an Oregon commissioner running for Congress and the older sister of progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), is over.

But the mystery has deepened.

Susheela Jayapal, a former Multnomah County Commissioner (center), is one of a handful of candidates running for Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District Thurs., April 11, 2024. Dave Killen / The Oregonian/The Oregonian via AP) /The Oregonian via AP)

That’s because the highly-anticipated federal filing of the Voters for Responsive Government was blank.

The group, which formed as a political action committee in April, got around FEC rules by taking in all of its donations against Jayapal in the three weeks before the election — past the April 30 deadline that would have forced it to disclose its backers before Tuesday’s primary election, the Oregonian reported

“It is despicable and the height of hypocrisy that a group called Voters for Responsive Government would use loopholes [to] ensure Oregon voters don’t know who is behind their $3 million of smears and unfounded lies,” Andrea Cervone, Jayapal’s campaign manager, said in a statement Monday night. 

The candidates in the competitive congressional race have raised and spent about $600,000 to $900,000 for their campaigns. The $3.2 million from Voters for Responsive Government PAC has eclipsed all of the spending and raised concerns about dark money in the Oregon race. 

The Los Angeles-based PAC lists its treasurer as Cary Davidson, a California lawyer. Davidson did not respond to requests for comment. 

The group must have received more than $1 million in the first two days of May. On May 2, the group paid more than $1 million for negative ads against Jayapal, falsely accusing her of starving cats and dogs and giving “crack pipes, straws, and tin foil to drug addicts” in response to Oregon’s drug crisis. It has since made more ad buys against her.

While the ads do not mention Gaza or Israel, it is believed that Jayapal may be being targeted for both her and her sister’s stance on Israel.

Jayapal is among seven Democrats and three Republicans on Tuesday’s ballot, but only Democratic state Rep. Maxine Dexter, Democratic Gresham City Councilor Eddie Morales, and Jayapal have raised a significant amount of money and are in contention.

Jayapal was the candidate to beat until a sudden influx of out-of-state money made its way into Oregon’s race.

The Intercept claimed Jayapal is being targeted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which has been funneling money into the race through 314 Action. The deep-pocketed pro-Israel political community signaled its strategy to go after Jayapal early on, based on concerns her views align with her sister’s, who was one of the first to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

According to a December Jewish Insider story titled “Jayapal sister’s congressional candidacy alarming Portland Jewish leaders,” there are concerns among the Jewish community that the two sisters’ views on Israel may be too aligned for comfort.

“While the elder Jayapal, 61, had no discernible history of public engagement on Middle East policy until recently, her approach to the war between Israel and Hamas suggests there is little distance between the two siblings on such matters — fueling concerns among local pro-Israel advocates who have yet to coalesce behind a viable candidate,” the article said.

The article also noted that “local pro-Israel advocates … have yet to coalesce behind a viable candidate,” and it named Dexter as a possibility. Dexter launched her campaign later that day.

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Jayapal and Morales have both spoken out about the lack of transparency and have called on Dexter and 314 Action to be more transparent about their donors. 

“Maxine Dexter claims to be for transparency in politics, but she and 314 Action are engaged in a dishonest and cynical ploy to obscure the donors propping up her campaign until just one day before the primary,” they said in a joint statement. “At a time when MAGA Republican mega-donors are interfering in Democratic primaries across the country, particularly against qualified candidates of color, voters deserve to know who is trying to buy this seat for a centrist candidate who doesn’t even live in the district.”

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