GOP megadonor funds super PAC targeting Summer Lee

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Republican megadonor Jeff Yass recently gave to a super PAC that is trying to topple a progressive incumbent in Pittsburgh.

The Moderate PAC, an outside group that aims to support centrist Democrats, has been boosting a primary challenge to Rep. Summer Lee, a member of “The Squad.” Lee and her supporters are quick to point out that Yass, a Pennsylvania businessperson, donated $1 million to the PAC in 2022, when it spent in support of Democratic Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Don Davis of North Carolina.

Yass has actually given more to the group in recent weeks, Moderate PAC’s president, Ty Strong, told POLITICO — the first time that donation is being disclosed publicly.

Moderate PAC was formed last cycle, and received almost no donations last year. When the PAC began airing its first ad last month — a contrast ad boosting Lee’s challenger Bhavini Patel, a member of the Edgewood Borough Council — Strong said that it was funded by donations raised in Lee’s 12th District.

Strong declined to say how much the billionaire gave this time around, saying the details will be disclosed in a campaign finance filing due later this month. He said he approached Yass in March, after receiving the donations from constituents in the district.

“I went to Jeff Yass and made a proposal,” Strong said. “He knew nothing about Summer. … He’s a really wealthy guy, so he made a donation in line with his wealth. But there’s other Pittsburgh people that are now seeing this and doing the same thing. And so it’s not Jeff Yass, it’s me and Pittsburgh who realized that this far-left member shouldn’t be representing a D-plus-eight district.”

Strong said that Pittsburgh-based donations will match Yass’ contribution.

Yass is a major donor to the conservative Club for Growth. He has also been in headlines recently amid the congressional push for TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company — which Yass has investments in — to sell the app. Strong said that Yass “has no lean in this other than he likes a moderate Democrat, as opposed to a far-left Democrat.”

“He’s obviously painted a certain way in the media,” said Strong, a former financial analyst. “But I realized that what he really cares about is that he’s a libertarian, but he’s also free market. And so with my economic background, I kind of talked about that. … He does like certain Democrats, and he likes Bhavini as a Democrat.”

Moderate PAC released its second ad on Tuesday, accusing Lee of “opposing” President Joe Biden. The group has placed more than $500,000 on television and digital advertising since the beginning of the year, according to ad tracker AdImpact. (Patel’s campaign has spent around $150,000.) Strong said that future investments will be dependent on fundraising, but the group will “stay in the race and keep up at the same pace as long as we can.”

Outside players are also coming to Lee’s aid. Working Families Party, the Muslim advocacy group Emgage and Justice Democrats are planning to spend $500,000 combined on TV and digital advertisements boosting the incumbent, said Ari Kamen, mid-Atlantic regional director at the Working Families Party. That investment is supplementing the more than $700,000 Lee has already put onto the airwaves.

Lee’s allies are explicitly using Yass’ support to try to discredit her challenger. “The attacks on Congresswoman Summer Lee are funded by a Republican billionaire,” an ad from the groups that was released last week leads with.

There is one notable player that has yet to be seen: United Democracy Project, the super PAC arm of American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Lee and other members of The Squad have been bracing for heavy spending from the group, as AIPAC has vowed to drop $100 million this cycle to oust progressives for their support for Palestinians amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The group typically starts spending in races in the weeks before the election — but there are less than three weeks to go before Pennsylvania’s April 23 primary.

“The clock is ticking,” said Mike Mikus, a Pittsburgh-based Democratic strategist who is not involved in the race. “As each day goes by, it’s a day they can’t get back, especially because mail ballots will be in people’s hands soon.”

A version of this story first appeared in POLITICO Pro’s Morning Score newsletter. Sign up for POLITICO Pro.

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