What’s Campaign Finance Got to Do with Jccs? Ask Key Senate Witness

Across the country there are tens of thousands of retired basketball players who learned their moves on the hardwood of a Jewish community center.

So who would think that one such experience would find its way to center stage of Democratic fund-raising improprieties?

Certainly not Richard Sullivan, the former Democratic National Committee finance director, who identifies as an Irish Catholic.

But when the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee called its first witness on campaign financing, Sullivan invoked his teen-age basketball squad to defend himself against a key charge of illegal fund-raising activities facing the Democrats.

Sullivan told the Senate panel that one of the primary reasons that he signed off on a speech last year by Vice President Al Gore at a Buddhist temple was his belief that the temple was a Buddhist version of a JCC.

Gore’s speech and the money it raised have landed the vice president in what at best is an embarrassing situation. DNC fund-raisers face accusations that they broke numerous election laws.

Sullivan testified Wednesday that he was “under the impression that it was a Buddhist-oriented community center.”

Answering questions from Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Sullivan admitted the event gave him “pause,” but said, “Growing up, I played basketball in a league, and we played in what was called a Jewish community center that was sponsored by the Jewish community” in Columbia, S.C.

“So that was what I was envisioning.”

Most JCC’s are not categorized as religious institutions, which are banned from political fund-raising activities.

When asked for a comment, the director of Jewish education at the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, said: “We have no strong position on the campaign finance reform issue,”

“But things have changed” since Sullivan was growing up, added Rabbi Mark Charendoff, whose group serves as the parent body for 285 JCCs in the United States and Canada.

“If he played now, after a game he could walk into a class on the Jewish ethical approach of charitable giving,” he said, implying that the DNC wouldn’t be in so much trouble if he had.

Jeffrey Turner, captain of a JCC basketball team at the new downtown District of Columbia JCC, said he’s always looking for new talent.

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