DECLINE In the aftermath of one of the most turbulent elections in modern American history, pro-Israel political action committees are turning inward to try to figure out what went wrong with fund raising this campaign season.
Pro-Israel PACs suffered the sharpest decline in contributions among single- issue or ideological PACs from January 1993 to June 1994, according to a recent study by the Center fro Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization that studies politics and money.
The 39 PACS identified with pro-Israel causes raised $1.2 million through June 30, a decline of 50 percent over the same period last election cycle.
The money raised by pro-Israel PACs represents almost 18 percent of the total raised by groups defined as single issue. More than 80 percent of contributions by pro-Israel PACs went to Democrats through June 30.
Though PAC contributions picked up in the last weeks of the campaign, due to last minute interest in many races and renewed political energy across the country, pro-Israel PACS continued to fall short of their past totals.
“The peace process has definitely hurt fund raising by Jewish organizations,” according to Chuck Brooks, executive director of National PAC, the largest of the pro-Israel PACS. “The good news of increasing chances for peace in the Middle East has led to a decrease in Jewish activism.”
The financial difficulties many of the PACs faced could not come at a worse time, some say, because the high turnover in Congress puts Jewish interests at risk.
By 1996 more than half the members of Congress will have been elected in the 1990s.
National PAC suffered the largest drop-off this season. According to Brooks, the organization gave away slightly more than $250,000 to congressional candidates and over $70,000 to state and local candidates, NatPAC gave more than $700,000 away during the 1992 election cycle.
Another reason for the fall-off in contributions is the “friendly administration,” according to Morris Amitay, treasurer of Washington PAC, another large pro-Israel PACs.
“The Clinton administration is widely viewed as pro-Israel and with that, one of the impetuses for giving is no longer there,” he said.
Although Jewish activism is off this year, Amitay added, “It’s there to be tapped if there’s a problem.”
Despite the weak donations early in the election season, Washington PAC planned to distribute about $170,000 this year, down from $225,000 for the 1992 elections.
Historically, PACs raise more money in presidential election years, both Amitay and Brooks said. Still, this midterm election season produced fewer contributions than the last one in 1990.
The Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, another large pro-Israel PAC, expected to give away less money this election cycle than last. According to JACPAC’s executive director, Marcia Balonick, the group will fall $10,000 to $15,000 shy of the $200,000 given to candidates last cycle.
However, Balonick considers the amount raised a large success because of significant administrative changes made at her organization during this election cycle.
Despite concern over the high turnover in Congress and fewer dollars being distributed to candidates, activists predict that Jewish interests will not suffer on Capitol Hill.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby is among a number of groups that began a wide-reaching campaign early in the election season to educate candidates and incumbents alike on pro-Israel issues.
As a sign of support, nearly all the candidates, from both political parties across the country, have written position papers expressing support for Israel and foreign aid, a key pro-Israel concern.
Nonetheless, pro-Israel PACs, faced with a declining donor base and complacency over a changing Middle East, say they are looking a head to 1996 to energize voters at the grass-roots level.