On April 10, less than six weeks before the primary election that would decide who would replace retiring Rep. Earl Blumenauer in Congress, former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal’s campaign sent out a memo on the state of the race. 

In it, the campaign cited internal polling conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based political strategy firm GBAO that found Jayapal in a strong position to win. 

According to the poll, Jayapal led the race with 21 percent of the vote, followed by Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales with 18 percent, and the State Rep. Maxine Dexter with 13 percent. Nearly half the voters surveyed were undecided.

When pollsters informed voters of the candidates’ respective messages, Jayapal’s lead grew to 12 points with the share of unexpected voters dropping to just 13 percent. 

“Susheela starts with a lead, she has the best profile, and she’s in a position to win,” the memo read. “The electorate is looking for a progressive champion in this race, putting Susheela in a strong position if she has the resources she needs to communicate.”

According to Andrea Cervone, who managed Jayapal’s campaign, the campaign received the results of the GBAO polling in March—prior to the beginning of an onslaught of outside spending that would, ultimately, upend the race. 

In the weeks since the conclusion of the May primary, the source of that spending has become somewhat less occluded. 

In late June, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) United Democracy Project filed its most recent financial disclosure—revealing that it spent more than $13 million during the month of May, including contributions of $1.3 million to the political action committee Voters for a Responsive Government and another $1 million to the political action committee 314 Action Fund. 

A significant amount of this money was likely used to attack Jayapal. Voters for a Responsive Government spent a total of more than $3.2 million in total attacking Jayapal over the course of the primary campaign, and according to the campaign spending watchdog Open Secrets, has not made any other expenditures.

Meanwhile, 314 Action Fund, a PAC purportedly formed to help “elect more scientists” to office, made Dexter the primary recipient of its electoral expenditures during the 2024 primary season.  

The PAC spent more than $2.1 million in supporting Dexter, more than four times the amount of money the organization has spent in support of any other candidate thus far in the 2024 election cycle. Given that the organization had just $1.4 million on hand at the end of March, the money from the United Democracy Project was likely vital in funding its intervention in the race.

State Rep. Janelle Bynum, who picked up an endorsement from the pro-Israel PAC Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) in her primary campaign against Jamie McLeod-Skinner, was also a recipient of 314 Action Fund help, despite not currently working as a scientist or doctor of any kind.  

The extent of 314 Action Fund’s links to AIPAC were being reported well before the most recent financial disclosures. The Intercept reported back in May that AIPAC was funneling money through 314 Action Fund, a particularly critical function in a congressional district like Blumenauer’s where AIPAC itself may be unpopular. 

Donors typically aligned with pro-Israel or other conservative causes also gave plenty to Dexter’s campaign directly: in the final months of the campaign, after pro-Israel interests had coalesced around her bid in their effort to stop Jayapal, Dexter’s fundraising pace picked up significantly—with her campaign raising nearly $220,000 on a single day in mid-May. 

In total, Dexter benefitted from nearly $6 million in outside spending—with the majority of that money spent to attack Jayapal. Given the listed addresses of the donors who contributed more than $100,000 to AIPAC’s United Democracy Project, it is likely that the majority of the money spent by PACs in the race also came from outside of Oregon. 

Dexter, who was floated as a potential pro-Israel candidate back in December, broadly condemned outside spending in the race and told the Mercury in April that she “urgently want[s] to see an end to the fighting and achieve long-term peace in Israel and Gaza through a negotiated cease-fire.” 

But she also declined an opportunity to participate in a candidate forum on Israel-Palestine or complete a questionnaire outlining her positions on the conflict and its ramifications in American politics.

Jayapal, whose sister, Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, took a different approach. Jayapal was the first candidate in the race to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and called for the U.S. to stop funding the Israel assault on Gaza that has been characterized as a genocide by a United Nations expert. 

In the end, Dexter’s strategy vis-a-vis the Israel lobby appeared to pay off: after trailing in the March poll of the race with just 13 percent of the vote, she defeated Jayapal by almost 15 percentage points in the May election. 

Dexter’s allies pointed to newspaper endorsements from The Oregonian and Willamette Week as part of the reason her candidacy surged in the race’s final month, but Cervone said she has “no doubt” the outside spending was pivotal in propelling Dexter to victory.   

“She was the candidate in the race who didn’t live in the district, or really represent it given her legislative district only overlapped with 1% of  OR-03; and the polling cleared showed her behind out of [the] gate,” Cervone wrote in a message to the Mercury. “Without the massive influx of outside money to simultaneously boost her and attack Susheela, her path to victory was very improbable.”

Dexter is facing only nominal opposition in November’s general election, and will, barring the unforeseen, assume Blumenauer’s seat in January. Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

When she arrives in Washington, she’ll be joined by a number of other Democratic representatives who have been aided by AIPAC and its affiliates. The latest will likely be former Westchester County executive George Latimer, who defeated progressive Rep. Jamaal Bowman in a New York primary with the help of nearly $15 million in AIPAC spending. 

Though AIPAC did not directly endorse Dexter, the group wasted no time in congratulating her on her victory. 

“AIPAC congratulates @doctormaxine on her Democratic primary win!” the group posted following the primary. “AIPAC members were proud to support Maxine Dexter in her race against an anti-Israel opponent endorsed by @BernieSanders, @AOC, and @jstreetdotorg. Being pro-Israel is good policy and good politics!”