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Does AIPAC rate candidates? You decide.

In this hot political season, Ben Smith over at Politico has a juicy scoop today entitled "AIPAC disputes Sestak ad."  The gist of the piece is this:  one of the campaign ads of Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA)  -- designed, it seems, to fend off criticism that he is anti-Israel, the result of a campaign being waged against him by a group called the Emergency Committee for Israel -- asserts that "According to AIPAC, Joe Sestak has a 100% pro-Israel voting record."  Smith's talked to soon-to-be-former-AIPAC spokesman Josh Block, who retorts: "Joe Sestak does not have a 100% voting record on Israel issues according to AIPAC. It couldn't be true, we don't rate or endorse candidates."

Now just to be clear, I have no idea how Sestak's record looks to AIPAC, and I don't really care.  But during a week when there has been a lot of discussion over what it means to tell the truth in the Israel advocacy world, Josh's words got my attention.  Why?  Because while AIPAC may not "rate or endorse candidates," it certainly scores their pro-Israel voting (and letter-signing) record.  This is well-known on the Hill and among Hill watchers (and is the root of an often-heard question from Hill staff, "do you know if AIPAC is scoring this?").

How can I make such a claim?  Well, because AIPAC actually does this whole exercise in writing, in a regular publication entitled "AIPAC Insider - Election [fill in the election year]".  No, I don't have every issue of this glossy document - I don't even have the most recent one.  But I do have the Spring 2007 - Election 2008 edition (Volume 3, Edition 1); the Spring 2006 - Election 2006 edition (volume 2, Edition 3), the Spring 2005 - Election 2005 edition (Volume 2, edition 1); and the Spring 2004 - Election 2004 edition (volume 1, edition 3).  (If someone out there has more recent editions, please feel free to send it over - I collect this stuff as a sort of hobby.)

These are long booklets - I am not going to scan every page of every booklet for people to read here.  But I have scanned some illustrative pages from the Election 2008 edition.  

First, I am including the cover of the booklet (just so you know I am not making any of this up).

Then there are the 3 pages that come under the heading "Voting Record Descriptions." These pages lay out the legislative initiatives (bills, resolutions, sign-on letters) that AIPAC considers important, and a "voting record key" indicating that members get a "+" for having "either supported pro-Israel position on a bill, resolution, or legislation, or signed a letter." Members' records are similarly noted with respect to whether they voted against a designated piece of legislation or failed to sign a designated letter; whether they co-sponsored or failed to co-sponsor a designated piece of legislation; whether they voted against or failed to vote at all on a designated piece of legislation; and whether they voted present on a designated piece of legislation.  

I have also scanned the first page of the next section of the booklet, which looks at key Senate Races (House Races come next).  Here, AIPAC offers an analysis (generally a very solid one) of each highlighted race, followed by a box score laying out each member's record on the various pro-Israel legislative initiatives that AIPAC is scoring.

Yes, in at least 3 places in each booklet the authors assert unequivocally that AIPAC does not "rate or endorse candidates," consistent with Josh's unequivocal assertion in response to the Sestak ad. 

Is that a fully accurate and forthright statement, in light of what AIPAC publishes in its Insider Election booklet?  You be the judge.