Summer Lee, Declaring Victory In Pennsylvania, Puts Dark Money Democrats On Notice

Summer Lee with Bernie

The United Democracy Project, a super PAC for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, poured millions to defeat Lee in a Pennsylvania House primary. Similar dark money groups have targeted several progressives.

BY ABIGAIL TRACY
Wanity Fair

MAY 19, 2022 – Around seven weeks before Pennsylvania’s primary elections, Summer Lee commanded a lead of 25 points over rival Steve Irwin in the race for Pennsylvania’s 12th District, a blue stronghold encompassing Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs. It appeared that Lee, 34, a Black woman and progressive activist who currently serves as a Pennsylvania state representative, would make history.

Then came the outside money. By election day, Democratic groups had dumped more than $2 million into the primary race to defeat Lee—dwarfing the outside money spent attacking Irwin, a mere $2,400. Specifically, the United Democracy Project (UDP)—a political action committee for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—spent $2,025,297 against Lee and $660,317 in support of Irwin, 62, a Pittsburgh lawyer and county Democratic Party organizer. The ads painted Lee as anti-Israel and claimed she was “not a real Democrat,” following a playbook that moderate groups have run against other progressives nationwide, including against Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman.

Lee declared victory on election night, at 12:30 a.m.; as of midday Wednesday, news outlets still hadn’t called an official winner—the race was too tight. Progressive groups and lawmakers including Senator Bernie Sanders congratulated her on the win. Lee declared, “This is the mightiest movement in the land!” Much of Pennsylvania’s Democratic establishment, including the retiring representative Mike Doyle, whose seat Lee and Irwin are after, had thrown their support behind Irwin. “They say a Black woman can’t win. Well, we came together. We can’t be stopped. We have a lot of work ahead of us. When we set out to do this, we believed a better world was possible; now we have to go do it,” Lee said in her remarks early Wednesday morning.

But the efforts to stop Lee are part of a broader trend in Democratic politics, as super PACs with big budgets have sought to prevent progressives—often women of color—from winning races across the country. “It’s really concerning to see the huge influx of outside money flowing into this race and the disingenuous effort to paint a progressive woman of color and the only sitting elected official in the race as an opponent of the Democratic Party,” a senior progressive official in the House told me.

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