As a wave of nearly $3 million in dark money enters Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District race, voters are questioning the donors backing Maxine Dexter’s campaign, and whether the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is among them.

A political action committee (PAC) known as 314 Action Fund, has spent  $1.67 million to support Dexter's campaign. Dexter is a current state representative now seeking election to Congress. The PAC claims its mission is to elect Democrats with a background in science. 

While Dexter is a physician, this level of spending on one candidate is unprecedented for 314. 

The money trail came under heightened scrutiny late last week, after The Intercept reported on claims from two anonymous Democratic members of Congress who say AIPAC was discreetly funneling money through 314 to target Susheela Jayapal’s campaign in favor of Dexter. 

AIPAC is the largest pro-Israel lobbying group in the country and has been known to spend money on political campaigns to oust progressives who are more critical of Israel. In the 2024 election cycle, AIPAC is reportedly spending upwards of $100 million to unseat progressives throughout the country who have criticized Israel’s assault on Gaza. 

Jayapal, the sister of Washington Congresswoman and progressive leader Pramila Jayapal, doesn’t align with the interests of AIPAC, according to her campaign, especially considering her calls for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Dexter's stance isn't far off.

"I urgently want to see an end to the fighting and achieve long-term peace in Israel and Gaza through a negotiated cease-fire that ensures: (1) an end to the violence, (2) the immediate release of the remaining hostages, and (3) the immediate delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid, including food, water and medicine into Gaza,” Dexter told the Mercury last month. “US aid, by law, is tied to strict humanitarian requirements and I would call on President Biden to ensure US law is followed to the letter.”

The district, which includes Hood River County and most of Multnomah County, has been led by Congressman Earl Blumenauer for nearly 30 years. Blumenauer is now retiring, leaving a highly coveted Congressional seat up for grabs.

Given the progressive stronghold over Oregon’s 3rd District, associating with a group like AIPAC could be a blow to Dexter’s campaign. The dark money nature of the situation only adds fuel to the fire. 

Because the spending push from 314 came in April, the group doesn’t have to disclose its donors until May 20, the day before the election. With ballots already out by mail, many voters will likely have already voted by then. 

In turn, speculation has surrounded Dexter's campaign. 

“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,” fellow 3rd District candidates Eddy Morales and Susheela Jayapal said in a joint statement on May 2. 

While Dexter can’t legally coordinate political spending or strategy with 314, she has not made any public effort to get them to disclose the identities of their donors. When asked why, the Dexter campaign declined to comment. This lack of action led to the press conference where Morales and Jayapal called on Dexter to request that 314 release the names of their donors.

“Democratic voters here have made it very clear they don’t want AIPAC and MAGA money interfering in their primaries, and Democratic candidates have a responsibility to live their values and use their public platform to renounce it,” Andrea Cervone, Jayapal’s campaign manager, said. 

In an open letter sent on May 6, a coalition of Oregon voters and activist groups called on Dexter to condemn and reject the dark money entering the race.

“The context and emerging evidence makes it clear that pro-Israel groups are spending big money to try to influence the Congressional District 3 race, but they are using dirty tricks to hide their efforts from Oregon voters,” Maxine Fookson, a member of Health Care Workers for Palestine and Uncommitted Oregon, said. “This shows contempt for the voters of our district, as well as cowardice for being unwilling to be up front with us.”

On top of 314, another PAC called “Voters for a Responsive Government” (VRG) has spent more than $1 million on attack ads against Jayapal. VRG happened to register on April 1, right after the disclosure deadline, meaning they will not need to disclose their donors until May 20—like 314. 

Little is known about VRG. The VRG website is made up of a couple stock photos and a link to the PAC’s email and Federal Elections Commission filing. No positions are listed and they did not respond when emailed for comment. 

Cary Davidson is listed as the treasurer for VRG. He is a Los Angeles attorney and a board member for Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, at the Claremont colleges. Hillel has fought against Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions bills on college campuses and has taken a strong stance against the Palestinian solidarity protests happening on campuses across the country.

Dexter appeared to try and distance herself from VRG through a social media post on X saying, “I am deeply disappointed to see a new dark money group enter this race to disparage one of my opponents.”

But, Dexter has not addressed the alleged dark money coming from 314, which has run numerous campaign ads supporting her. 

As the situation heated up, even Senator Jeff Merkley chimed in. 

“I strongly condemn the dark money campaign underway to smear Susheela Jayapal in OR CD3 and any other dark money campaigns that are underway or planned,” Merkley said in a statement. 

Maxine Dexter (left) and Susheela Jayapal (center) are both running for Oregon's 3rd Congressional District. Janelle Bynum (right) is running in Oregon's 5th District.

The 314 PAC has also spent $220,000, with more planned, on Janelle Bynum in the 5th Congressional District race. Bynum's ties to science are less pronounced. Despite holding a degree in electrical engineering and previously working for large firms, she and her husband own four McDonald’s franchises. Bynum lists herself as a small business owner.

The stark contrast in funding between Dexter and Bynum is notable. Oregon’s 5th District is considered a must-win seat for Democrats eager to replace the incumbent, Republican Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer. The focus by 314 on a district that’s all but certain to go to a Democrat brings the PAC’s goals into question. Jayapal’s campaign notes she’s backed by multiple environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth Action.

In response, 314 cited their commitment to electing Democratic scientists regardless of how contested the district is. 

While much of 314’s funding still remains in the dark, there are a few details to hold onto. 

Prior to April, 314 had less than $1.2 million in cash on hand, meaning they would have needed an influx of donations in order to spend $1.7 million on Dexter, as well as on other candidates. It’s still unclear where that money came from, but in the last quarter, the largest donation to 314 was $500,000 from Venture Capitalist Ray Rothrock. 

Rothrock is the CEO and Chairman of RedSeal, a cybersecurity company, and has spoken on behalf of the company at Cyber Together, an event bringing together Israel’s top cybersecurity leaders. He likewise is a board member at Check Point, a leading Israeli cybersecurity company. 

In an Oregonian article from April 26, Dexter said she was “proud that a grassroots coalition of doctors and scientists are supporting my campaign for Congress. ... I want to also be clear that I am committed to working earnestly when elected on federal campaign finance reform.”

For some voters, the lack of response to accusations about dark money in her campaign has brought up questions about the sincerity of her promises.

A political staffer who’s worked with Oregon’s elected leaders, but asked not to be identified, suggests Dexter’s campaign underestimated the repercussions of appearing to have coordinated with AIPAC to secure the backing of its formidable war chest.

Oregon voters will cast their ballots in the closed primary election on or before May 21.