The ’88 Congressional Races: Representatives Elected in November Likely to Be Just As Strong on Isra
Menu JTA Search

The ’88 Congressional Races: Representatives Elected in November Likely to Be Just As Strong on Isra

Download PDF for this date

The November elections are not likely to produce a major shift in voting patterns on Israel in the U.S. House of Representatives, analysts say, if incumbents are re-elected with the same 98-percent success rate that they achieved in the 1986 races.

Analysts point out, however, that there are a few “friendly” lawmakers in trouble this year, as well as some “opportunity” races to knock off some of the least supportive members of Congress.

Seventeen of the largest pro-Israel political action committees awarded close to $1.45 million through March 31 to congressional campaigns this election cycle, Federal Election Commission records show.

While $900,000 had been spent on Senate campaigns, only about $500,000 went to House races. Those numbers are expected to tighten because of the early publicity generated by Senate races, analysts said. The remainder, $45,000, was distributed to various presidential candidates.

The PACs awarded $280,288 in the first three months of this year, following disbursements totalling $1,159,781 in 1987.

The presidential race is not the focus of the pro-Israel PACs. Richard Altman, executive director of National PAC, which led the 17 PACs with $377,500 in campaign contributions through March 31, said congressional elections “count the most” in influencing U.S. policy toward Israel, since a $5,000 contribution to a presidential campaign is just a drop in the bucket.

National PAC did award Vice President George Bush $5,000 anyway for good measure. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the likely Democratic nominee, does not accept PAC money.


In the 435-seat House of Representatives, the pro-Israel PACs so far have awarded money to more than 130 members and two dozen challengers. They generally contribute to lawmakers on the committees affecting Israel, which are Appropriations, Armed Services, Budget, and Foreign Affairs.

Other key members in leadership positions also traditionally receive contributions, including House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) and Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-Ill.). Wright received $8,000, while Michel received $6,000 through March 31 from the 17 PACs.

Also, members who routinely approve foreign aid packages and oppose weapons sales often receive pro-Israel PAC contributions. On the most recent vote affecting Israel, the PACs gave funds to just three of the 90 who voted against the 1989 foreign aid bill.

They were Reps. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Richard Stallings (D-Idaho), who were awarded a total of $2,500, and Patrick Swindall (R-Ga.), who received $1,500.

The $14.3 billion bill, which was approved 328-90 on May 25, included $3 billion in economic and military assistance to Israel.

In the November elections, House incumbents sympathetic to Israel who are considered vulnerable include: Reps. Jack Davis (R-Ill.), a first-term member of the Armed Services Committee; Vin Weber (R-Minn.), a member of the Appropriations Committee; Jack Buechner (R-Mo.), a member of the Budget Committee, who was the only new Republican elected to the House in 1986; and James McClure Clarke (D-N.C.), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who won by a narrow 2,435 votes in 1986.

Rep. Wayne Owens (D-Utah) is considered the only member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East in trouble this year. Owens’ Republican challenger, Richard Snelgrove, is well-known in the Beehive State because of his gourmet ice cream stores there.


Additional incumbents not yet vulnerable but who are receiving PAC support are Reps. Peter Kostmayer (R-Pa.), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who won by 15,596 votes in 1986; first-term member George Hochbrueckner (D-N.Y.); Joseph DioGuardi (R-N.Y.), who will face one of three Democrats, including Hamilton Fish III; and Mike Espy (D-Miss.), a member of the Budget Committee, who won by 4,691 votes. Espy, who is black, received $12,000 from the PACs, one of the highest totals the PACs awarded in House races.

Other significant sums awarded to House members by the 17 PACs include $11,000 to Rep. John Miller (R-Wash.), a Jew who on absentee ballots in 1986. Miller, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, will once again face Reese Lindquist, whom he defeated by 3,124 votes two years ago.

Another Jew, Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), who was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the Holocaust, received $9,500 from the PACs. Morris Amitay, treasurer of the Washington PAC, said he would be “shocked” if Gejdenson, also a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, lost.

In a race for an open seat in Nebraska, both Jews lost in the primaries. Alice Milder, a Republican, received $8,000 from the PACs, while the wife of former Sen. Edward Zorinsky (D-Neb.), Cece Zorinsky, lost in the Democratic primary. She received $2,500 from the PACs.


Despite the 98-percent re-election success rate of incumbents, the pro-Israel PACs are hoping to knock off a few unsympathetic members of the House, including Rep. Ron Marlenee (R-Mont.), whom Amitay termed “totally negative” on Israel. His challenger, rancher Buck O’Brien, a Democrat, received $1,500 from the PACs. O’Brien attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s 29th annual policy conference last month.

Rep. James Hansen (R-Utah) is “bad” on Israel, one analyst said, hoping that Democratic challenger Gunn McKay, a representative from 1978 to 1980, wins that race. McKay, who lost to Hansen by 5,037 votes in 1984, received $500 from Washington PAC.

The PACs awarded money to nine of the 23 black members of the House. Besides the $12,000 awarded to Espy, other black members to receive funding were Reps. Mickey Leland (D-Texas), $6,500; William Gray III (D-Pa.), $6,000; Julian Dixon (D-Calif.), $5,000; Major Owens (D-N.Y.), $5,000; Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), $3,000; John Lewis (D-Ga.), $1,800; Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), $500; and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), $500.

In addition, the Puerto Rican delegate, Democrat Jaime Fuster, received $250 from the National Bipartisan PAC.

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