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Behind the Headlines: Pro-israel Political Giving Bucks National Support for Gop

Despite an overall shift in political giving toward Republicans in the 1996 election cycle, pro-Israel donors favored Democrats by a 2 to 1 margin, according to a new study.

Pro-Israel political action committees and individuals contributed a total of $4.2 million to candidates for federal office in 1995-1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based, non-partisan organization that analyzes the role of money in politics.

In its study released this week, the center found that the 1996 election campaigns were the most expensive in U.S. history, with $2.2. billion spent by the two major parties, political action committees and other political organizations.

Political action committees and individuals contributed a total of roughly $630 million of this amount, the bulk of it coming from corporate America.

The study comes as Americans continue to debate the merits of campaign finance reform.

The issue has created a rift in the Jewish community, with some believing that such reform poses a threat to American Jewish influence on the political process. Others see a need to reduce the influence of money in politics.

PAC contributions represent only a small part of Jewish political giving. Millions more flow from individuals and other channels directly to candidates and political parties.

The study found that among ideological or single-issue political action committees — which raised $29 million — pro-Israel PACs ranked second, behind “leadership PACs,” which are run by members of Congress and other political figures to distribute funds.

Of the $4.2 million spent by pro-Israel PACs, about $2.7 million went to Democrats — the traditional recipients of most Jewish dollars — compared to $1.5 million to Republicans.

The $4.2 million in total outlays marked a 17 percent decline from 1994, when pro-Israel interests gave $5 million to candidates, the study found.

The totals reflect contributions from the 38 pro-Israel PACs around the country that were active in 1995-1996, and from individuals connected with pro-Israel PACs who gave $200 or more.

The PACs, some of which also consider domestic issues when distributing their funds, contributed $2.3 million to candidates, while individuals gave $1.9 million.

Chuck Brooks, executive director and treasurer of the pro-Israel National PAC, said the drop-off in contributions is consistent with the overall decline in Jewish giving to established fund-raising organizations.

That decline is attributed to various factors, he said, including a generational shift, a prevailing sense of complacency and, to a lesser extent, alienation from Israel stemming from the religious pluralism debate.

He also said the controversies surrounding campaign finance in general may have “soured” some to the idea of participating in the political process.

While political givers as a whole backed Republicans by a solid majority, pro- Israel donors favored Democratic candidates over Republicans 65 percent to 35 percent, the study found.

Still, contributions from pro-Israel donors to the GOP were up 21 percent from the 1994 election cycle.

Democrats, meanwhile, showed a decline of 29 percent in such donations, but still maintained a solid edge over Republicans.

The Jewish tilt toward Democrats may have as much to do with the candidates that are up for election “as with the general ideological alliance of Jewish Americans,” said Sheila Krumholz, project director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

National PAC, the largest pro-Israel PAC, bucked the trend in pro-Israel giving, favoring Republicans over Democrats, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Like many who began shifting their money toward GOP candidates after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, Brooks said his committee’s contributions were “reflective of the balance of power” in Washington.

The study also found that:

Among all political action committees, National PAC ranked 86th with its $590,000 in campaign contributions. It ranked ninth among all ideological PACs, which includes the National Rifle Association, which ranked first with $1.5 million in contributions.

After National PAC, the most active pro-Israel PACs included Desert Caucus, Washington PAC, the National Jewish Democratic Council PAC and the Women’s Alliance for Israel.

Among the top five recipients of pro-Israel PAC dollars in both the House and Senate, only two — House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — were Republicans.

The top five Senate recipients were Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Ron Wyden (D- Ore.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and McConnell.

Gingrich led House recipients, followed by Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Martin Frost (D-Texas), Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.).

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