With Presidential Race So Crowded, Jewish Donors Pulled Different Ways
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With Presidential Race So Crowded, Jewish Donors Pulled Different Ways

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Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential hopeful, recently spent the night at the Philadelphia home of Peter Buttenwieser.

A retired educator and fund-raiser for Democratic Senate candidates, Buttenwieser says he has given political contributions to six major Democratic contenders for the White House this year, including $2,000 to Dean. Personal relationships fostered over the years with the candidates and their supporters have led him to spread his wealth among the candidates and refrain from endorsing any one person, Buttenwieser said.

"It’s a little hard when someone says, ‘Will you be with me?’ " Buttenwieser said. "But I honestly feel that with this group of people, all of them are good people."

He’s not alone.

Faced with a plethora of candidates and a complex set of political issues, many Jewish Democratic political contributors have chosen to support more than one candidate in the 2004 presidential primaries.

While it’s impossible to know exactly how much of each candidate’s war chest comes from Jews, Jewish donors traditionally have been active political givers to Democratic candidates.

Fund-raisers in the Jewish community for several Democratic candidates report that some donors are offering small donations but are reluctant to give the maximum $2,000 individual donation to a single candidate, while others are giving the maximum to two or more candidates.

Among the famous names giving large amounts to multiple candidates are entertainment magnate Haim Saban and Daniel Abraham, founder of the Slim Fast Foods Company and an activist for Middle East peace.

Donors say that they support the policy positions of more than one Democrat hopeful, and have formed relationships with people on different campaigns over the years, creating a sense of obligation to several candidates.

"A litmus test for me is a candidate has to be good on Israel," said Buttenwieser, who is Jewish. "But all of these candidates are good on Israel."

The nine Democratic presidential hopefuls, as well as President Bush, each released fund-raising details for the second quarter of this year on July 15.

Dean raised the most money among Democrats in the last quarter, $7.5 million, thanks largely to small donations raised over the Internet. But Bush raised more than all nine Democrats combined, garnering more than $34 million.

Lieberman’s campaign, which raised $5.1 million in the last quarter, the second highest, announced a shake-up in its fund-raising staff, reportedly because of the campaign’s poor showing in the first quarter and differences of opinion over how to move forward.

Under new campaign finance laws, donors can give up to $2,000 to a single candidate, and up to $37,500 total for candidates for president, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Campaign fund-raisers say several factors have led to an increase in the "double dipping" phenomenon, especially in the Jewish community.

One of the most significant is the candidate roster: Many veteran political donors have long relationships with several of the lawmakers vying for the Democratic nomination, and have heard appeals from multiple candidates.

"To me, political fund raising is all about relationships," said Lonnie Kaplan, a former president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who is on Lieberman’s finance committee.

"When I ask my friends for help, I am guessing that other people have asked them for help as well."

One donor who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was invited by good friends to Dean and Lieberman fund- raisers in New York, and gave to both candidates.

"I don’t feel funny about it at all," he said. "If I had been convinced from the get-go that one was my choice, I would have supported him."

Campaign officials say they don’t ask donors whether they are supporting other candidates, but they hear about multiple support anecdotally. Despite the obvious competition, however, fund-raisers for several campaigns — including those of Kerry, Dean and Lieberman — say they are doing very well in the Jewish community.

"He called me early in the game, when he had just presented his healthcare proposal," said the contributor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He’s been very careful to keep me apprised of what’s going on."

When Lieberman called several months later, the contributor said she gave, but not as much as Lieberman wanted.

Lieberman’s candidacy has made the choice for Jewish donors more difficult. Many longtime donors have solid relationships with the former vice presidential candidate, and support the idea of a Jewish candidate.

Yet Lieberman’s positions on domestic policy — his support of faith-based initiatives and school vouchers — are out of step with those of many liberal Jewish donors.

Lieberman’s camp says the Jewish community comprises a large part of his fund-raising base. Other campaigns say Lieberman fund-raisers have been "playing the Jewish card," appealing to the shared heritage of the donors and asking donors to preserve the viability of a Jewish candidate.

"A lot of them felt an obligation to give some amount to Lieberman," one political fund-raiser said.

The Lieberman campaign denies that it is using the candidate’s religion as a fund-raising tool.

"The pitch has never been one of entitlement," a source close to the Lieberman campaign said. "If anyone expected the American Jewish community to flop behind the Jewish guy, it’s ridiculous."

Spokesman Jano Cabrera said the Lieberman campaign is asking for the support of the Jewish community and other communities as well.

"It’s always easy for anonymous sources to make wild accusations," he said. "We are pleased with our Jewish support, but we recognize we can do better."

Sources close to the campaign acknowledge that they face trepidation on the part of some older Jews — mostly born before World War II — who are concerned that having a Jewish president might spark anti-Semitism.

But that sentiment is counterbalanced by a sense of pride and energy among younger Jews, the campaign says.

Complicating the fund-raising efforts of several candidates is the strong support in the Jewish community for President Bush’s actions against terrorism and on behalf of Israel.

Kaplan, the Lieberman fund-raiser, said raising money for Democratic contenders among pro-Israel Jews has been tougher than normal.

"There’s a segment of the community that would be a natural for Joe that is either sitting and watching right now or supporting the president," he said.

Steve Grossman, national co-chair of Dean’s campaign and another former AIPAC president, said Dean has had to look for Jewish donors that do not place Israel at the top of their agenda, because so many of them are pleased with Bush’s stance on terrorism and disappointed with Dean’s criticism of the U.S. war in Iraq.

"I do think that for a certain significant segment of the Jewish community, the position Howard took on the war was one that didn’t complement their own," said Grossman, who also is a former national chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "It’s a challenge to convert that into strong support."

Grossman said Dean has done better in the Jewish community lately as many Jewish leaders get to know him and he receives positive media attention, as well as support from several significant players in the American Jewish community. Several people who gave Dean small contributions as the campaign started have doubled their donations recently, Grossman said.

Alan Solomont, an active fund-raiser for Kerry, said he believes there is still plenty of Jewish money for Democratic contenders, because so many in the Jewish community are disappointed with Bush’s domestic and economic policies.

"I haven’t had a single phone call from a single donor in which they have turned me down because they are enamored with the president," said Solomont, a former DNC finance chair. "The Jewish community is very unhappy, and I don’t think I have experienced a time with such alienation for a sitting president from this group."

Matthew Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, rejected this assessment and said that the financial support for the president proves the point.

"The amount of money the president is receiving in the Jewish community from old supporters and a large number of Democrats and people who haven’t supported him before is eye opening," he said.

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