Pro-Israel group helps raise $500,000 for embattled Sen. Robert Menendez
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Pro-Israel group helps raise $500,000 for embattled Sen. Robert Menendez

Robert Menendez

Sen. Robert Menendez at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, May 26, 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A leading pro-Israel political action committee says it has helped raise over $500,000 for U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a pro-Israel leader in the Senate who is in an unexpectedly tight race.

NORPAC’s all-out push for Menendez, D-N.J., this election cycle is notable because Republicans currently lead in the Senate by just a 50-49 margin and Democrats hope to wrest control in November, as well as in the U.S. House of Representatives. President Donald Trump is warning supporters that a Democratic victory in either chamber could scuttle his agenda.

The most recent NORPAC fundraiser for Menendez was on Monday at $1,000 a plate.

Ben Chouake, NORPAC’s president, told JTA in a recent interview that the group’s backing for Menendez was typical of its support for incumbent lawmakers who are leaders in the pro-Israel cause. That discipline is traditional for pro-Israel fundraising, and the polarized times have not changed the approach, he said.

“We follow the rules,” no matter the party, he said. “It simplifies everything because it’s simple and straightforward. A guy like Bob Menendez gets huge support because he was a huge champion on our issues.”

As a political action committee, NORPAC may not give more than $10,000 to a candidate in an election season, but it may organize fundraisers where donors cut individual checks and hand them straight to the campaign. The maximum individual donation is $2,700.

Menendez bucked President Barack Obama as one of only four Senate Democrats to oppose the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Corporate executive Bob Hugin, the Republican challenger, is within single digits of Menendez in the polls in a typically Democrat state.

Menendez was tarred by a corruption charge, although he was acquitted earlier this year. NORPAC donors helped fund Menendez’s defense, Chouake said.

NORPAC has also in recent years held fundraisers for Republicans in tight House races: Dan Donovan in New York’s 11th District, comprising Staten Island, and Leonard Lance in Northern New Jersey’s 7th District.

NORPAC also held a fundraiser last week for Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator from North Dakota who is facing a tight race in a state where Trump won handily in 2016. That meeting netted $25,000 for her, Chouake said.

“She’s an incumbent, she qualifies, it’s close, she needs it,” he said.

Chouake said the minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — who is Jewish and also opposed the Iran deal — asked NORPAC to hold the fundraiser and was present.