WASHINGTON â€” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, holding its annual policy conference here this week, is the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying advocacy group in the United States.
In the past five year years, AIPAC has spent more than $14 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies to press its agenda, which includes continuing to ensure U.S. military aid to Israel and imposing new sanctions on Iran if international negotiators fail to reach a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Obama has opposed congressional sanction efforts, arguing they could derail sensitive talks with Iran.
The group also cultivates ties with Capitol Hill by sponsoring dozens of trips for lawmakers and their aides each year to Israel. In 2013, its foundation funded 77 trips, totaling nearly $1.4 million in value, according to a USA TODAY analysis of travel data compiled by Political MoneyLine.
This week’s policy conference gives AIPAC another opportunity to make its voice heard. Some of the 16,000 activists attending the event are expected to head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to meet with lawmakers backing legislation imposing tougher sanctions on Iran and another bill that seeks to require congressional approval on any deal.
Some observers have questioned whether AIPAC’s influence is on the wane.
In recent years, it has found itself competing with other voices in the American Jewish community â€” most notably J Street, an organization founded in 2008 to offer a more liberal stance.
In 2011, the Senate voted 100-0 to impose sanctions on financial institutions that do business with Iran â€” in a forceful rebuke of the White House’s push for diplomacy. A new Iran sanctions bill sponsored this year by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., would impose new sanctions if a nuclear deal fails. It recently passed the Senate Banking Committee by an 18-4 vote.
In a political victory for Obama, however, Menendez and nine other Democratic senators have made it clear they will put the brakes on the measure getting to the Senate floor before a March 24 deadline for a framework agreement in the ongoing negotiation.