Focus on Issues the Name of the Game is Pacs
Menu JTA Search

Focus on Issues the Name of the Game is Pacs

Download PDF for this date

While a debate continues in the American Jewish community whether it is wise to be perceived as a single-issue community, political action committees (PACs) formed to ensure continued support for Israel are expanding rapidly.

A recent report by Common Cause, the citizens’ advocacy group, asserts that “the pro-Israel PACs’ contributions may well have been the fastest growing of all interest groups during the past five years,” increasing their contributions between the 1980 and 1984 elections by nine times as compared to a doubling by all PACs during the same period. Since 1981, 65 pro-Israel PACs have contributed $6,120,713 to candidates for the Senate and the House.

In 1985, the pro-Israel PACs gave Congressional candidates $853,520, according to Common Cause. The top recipient was Sen. Robert Kasten (R. Wisc.) chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, who received $107,600 in 1985. He was followed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R. Pa.), a subcommittee member, $70,375; and Sen. Alan Cranston (D. Cal.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, $57,250. All three face tough re-election campaigns this year.

The report shows that five other Senators, who are either on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee or the Foreign Relations Committee and are seeking re-election received large contributions last year.

They are: Daniel Inouye (D. Hawaii), $29,050; Christopher Dodd (D. Conn.) $28,250; Alfonse D’Amato (R. N.Y.), $28,250; Frank Murkowski (R. Alaska) $8,000; and Patrick Leahy (D. Vt.) $3,500.

Common Cause also points to contributions in 1985 to members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They are: Reps. Lawrence Smith (D. Fla.) $15,000; Lee Hamilton (D. Ind.) $11,800; John McCain (R. Ariz.) $11,000; Sam Gejdensen (D. Conn.) $9,250; Harry Reid (D. Nev.) $6,000; and Mark Siljander (R. Mich.) $5,000.


Those who received contributions from pro-Israel PACs do not always win. Of the 10 candidates receiving the most funds from 1981 through 1984, four were defeated, including the second highest recipient, James Hunt, who was defeated by Sen. Jesse Helms (R. N.C.) in 1984.

In the House, eight of the top recipients for the same period are still in Congress. But the top recipient, Rep. Clarence Long (D. Md.), who was chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, was defeated in 1984 by his Republican opponent, Helen Bentley.

Common Cause also found that 18 pro-Israel PACs contributed more than $100,000 for the five-year period through 1985. Leading them all was the Washington-based National PAC with $1,352,000.

Common Cause president Fred Wertheimer, in commenting on his organization’s report, said it “provides a classic case study of the PAC problem in our political system–the proliferation of PACs, the increase of PAC dollars, the concentration of interest group money in key Congressional committees, and the single-minded focus of PAC-giving.”

Richard Altman, head of the National PAC, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Common Cause report made him “proud” that so many supporters of Israel were willing to respond in the same way their fellow Americans supported issues important to them.

Altman noted that NatPAC was created not to support PACs but to stand by those who reflected the belief that the survival of Israel is important to the United States.

There are many in the Jewish community who believe, along with Common Cause, that PACs pose a danger to the political system. But as long as PACs exist, there is no reason why supporters of Israel should not make their influences felt just as every other interest group does.

Critics of pro-Israel PACs point to the part they played in the defeat of Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.) in 1984 and Rep. Paul Findley (R. III.) in 1982. But they fail to mention that these two candidates received large contributions from oil companies, companies that do business in the Arab countries and others who want the U.S. commitment to Israel lessened. Should Israel’s supporters leave the field open to them? This is a question frequently posed.

Some Jews argue that the community should not be viewed as single-issue oriented and as evidence of this point to the formation of the Illinois Multi-Issue PAC. This is all to the good, but it is still important to focus attention on the American Jewish commitment to Israel. After all, it is pointed out, Jews who contribute to pro-Israel PACs can still contribute to other PACs that support the many other issues with which American Jews are concerned.

Whether one likes it or not, PACs are the political game in the U.S. today. Jews and other supporters of Israel cannot be criticized for playing it just as everybody else does.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund