Advocacy groups lobbying in support of the Iran deal are racing to launch advertising campaigns, expand their staff and experiment with new social media tools in an effort to convince lawmakers to support the nuclear pact reached last week between Iran, the United States and five other world powers.
They are facing formidable, deep-pocketed opponents including Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a new group supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that is preparing to spend up to $40 million on television ads as part of an aggressive campaign to urge lawmakers to vote against the deal.
“We clearly can’t compete in terms of money,” said Jessica Rosenblum, communications director for J Street, a liberal advocacy group that backs the nuclear deal. “But what we have on our side is the weight of public opinion in support of this deal. Much will come down to our ability to make sure those voices are heard in Congress.”
Since the announcement of the deal last week, J Street has raised $2 million from donors, and a significant portion of that will go toward advertising on cable and network television. The ads, which started running last week and aired during the Sunday political shows, will run in targeted markets, though Rosenblum declined to specify which states.
The states that are considered critical include Florida, Oregon, California, New York and Maryland, which all contain districts that are heavily populated by Jewish voters or represented by Jewish lawmakers who are seen as key votes on the issue.
Congress can vote to reject the nuclear agreement, but it would take a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a presidential veto of any attempt to derail the deal. It is widely acknowledged that Democrats will likely be the deciding factor because most Republicans already oppose the agreement.
J Street also plans to run a full-page print ad in The New York Times on Thursday that praises the deal for “[making] the U.S. and Israel safer.” And the group is bringing Israeli political and military leaders to the United States to meet with U.S. lawmakers and editorial boards to advocate for the deal. Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York, is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Thursday and will continue on to Oregon, Michigan and Maryland. Amram Mitzna, the retired general of the Israel Defense Forces and former mayor of Haifa, plans to travel to Washington next week to speak about why he thinks the deal makes Israel safer, Rosenblum said.
MoveOn.org, the progressive advocacy group whose affiliated political action committee raises millions of dollars for Democratic candidates and causes, is making the Iran deal its “top priority for the next 60 days,” said MoveOn spokesman Nick Berning.
Berning declined to discuss exactly how much the group plans to spend on the efforts, but said that since the deal was announced, MoveOn committed to spending six figures on advertising — radio, television and online — and hiring more field organizers in a several states to encourage lawmakers to stand behind the agreement.
“The first part of the strategy is to get the message out that this is a good deal and the alternative is war,” Berning said. “The second part is to make sure the senators and representatives we need to defend the deal are hearing from their constituents that they want diplomacy, not war.”
Perhaps more influential will be MoveOn’s potential future endorsement of Democratic candidates based in part on their position on the Iran deal. Berning stopped short of saying the group would withhold financial backing to lawmakers who do not support the deal, but acknowledged that the Iran nuclear issue is important to MoveOn members who ultimately decide which candidates the group endorses.
In two-candidate House and Senate elections, MoveOn endorses candidates who receive at least two-thirds approval from its 8 million members; for multiple-candidate elections, it endorses candidates who receive at least 50 percent approval from members.
“We know this issue is a top priority for MoveOn members, so it seems reasonable that members would factor this into their decision when they consider which candidates to endorse,” Berning said.
The group is also using a new third-party app on its website that allows people to “donate” their Twitter or Facebook account to the cause. The app allows MoveOn to compose a Tweet a day that will be sent out from all the “donors'” accounts at the same time, in their name. The group first started using the app earlier this summer to mobilize support during the debate in Congress over fast-track trade legislation.