April/May 1997, pgs. 43-50
Pro-Israel PAC Donations Soared in Final Months of 1996 Election Cycle
By Richard H. Curtiss
Statistical compilations and charts by Geoff Lumetta
When pro-Israel PACs were singing the blues early in 1996 about decreasing contributions from members, it seems they were only fooling. Actual contributions to individual candidates reported by the 61 pro- Israel PACs active in the 1996 election cycle more than doubled between June 30 and Dec. 31, 1996, from $1,371,034 to $2,738,647.
The final figure was an increase of $209,074 over the $2,529,573 in direct donations to candidates reported by the 61 pro-Israel PACs active in the 1994 election cycle. The 1996 figures therefore reversed a steady downward trend in direct pro-Israel PAC contributions that had set in after the 1988 high-water mark, when pro-Israel PACs raised $10,805,762 and spent $5,832,475 in direct donations (see chart A, page 50). In the 1996 cycle the total amount raised by pro-Israel PACs was about twice the amount spent in direct donations.
By contrast, six Arab-American and Muslim-American PACs gave a total of $20,625 to candidates in the 1996 election cycle, meaning they were outspent by pro-Israel PACs by 133 to 1. This tremendous disparity between Jewish PACs and Arab and Muslim PACs was about normal for the 10 election cycles during which both categories of PACs have been in existence (see chart B, page 50).
Despite the requirement by the Federal Election Commission that PACs and candidates disclose both their receipts and expenditures, a number of mysteries remain about the pro-Israel PACs which distinguish them from any of the hundreds of other PACs in existence. For example, the Muslim- and Arab-American PACS are, without exception, openly sponsored by membership organizations and their descriptive titles accurately describe their membership. This is a characteristic they share with most other PACs, whether they represent corporations, professional associations, special interests, or like-minded individuals.
Top 18 Senate Recipients of 1996 Cycle Pro-Israel PAC Donations
Top 20 House Recipients of 1996 Cycle Pro-Israel PAC Donations
By contrast, the pro-Israel PACs, more than 116 of which have been active over the past 22 years, have done everything possible to hide their purpose, their membership and even their existence from the general public. The majority were established between 1982 and 1984 by then-members of the board of directors of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel's principal Washington DC lobby.
Initially the newly created pro-Israel PACs had two things in common. None adopted names that revealed either their membership or their purpose. In fact, those few pro-Israel PACs established before the 1982 cycle which had descriptive names, either changed their names or were quietly closed down. To this day none of the AIPAC-established PACs have any reference to Israel, Jews, Judaism or even the Middle East in their titles.
The second thing these AIPAC-founded PACs had in common was that all seemed to be closely managed by AIPAC itself. When written memoranda from AIPAC officials turned up directing the contributions of the individual PACs, a group of prominent former U.S. government officials filed a suit in 1988 charging that AIPAC was functioning as a political action committee, but without complying with the disclosure requirements incumbent on PACs. The suit charged that AIPAC's establishment of at least 27 separate political action committees was nothing more than an effort to evade the limit of $10,000 imposed on a PAC's donations to a single candidate in a single election cycle.
The suit against the 27 named PACs was dismissed in 1989, but the FEC ruled that AIPAC itself was functioning as a "political committee." It declined to force AIPAC to disclose the sources of its funds, however, on grounds that electioneering was not a "major part" of the lobbying group's activities. A subsequent December 1996 8-to-2 court of appeals decision, however, ordered the FEC to enforce its own ruling that AIPAC is a "political committee" by forcing AIPAC to obey the laws governing such committees, including disclosure. The FEC was given 90 days to respond to the court order, and in late February it requested additional time.
Another mystery concerns the total amount of money injected by pro-Israel U.S. Jews into American elections every two years. Estimates from non-Jewish sources meet instant rejection in the mainstream U.S. media as "anti-Semitic" or "conspiracy theories." On the other hand, the U.S. Jewish weekly press and other Jewish sources readily admit to figures high enough to shock average Americans, although these published figures seem too low to long-time observers of the process.
For example, Matthew Dorf of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, source of much of the national and international news in weekly Jewish newspapers, reported in December 1996 that "Jews gave more than $25 million to fund this year's election." Oddly, he reported, despite this huge injection of funds, Jewish leaders are concerned "about diminished influence under a changed system."
Jonathan J. Goldberg, author of the informative 1996 book Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment estimates the total budget of some 300 national Jewish organizations and another 200 local federations of Jewish charities at "upwards of $6 billion per year...more than the gross national product of half the members of the United Nations." However, Goldberg estimates the combined budgets of what he calls Jewish "political groups" and what Jewish activists call "defense" or "community relations agencies" at "less than $100 million per year." The budget of AIPAC alone, with some 150 employes, is $15 million. By contrast, the budget of the National Association of Arab Americans, the only Arab-American group registered to lobby, is probably less than one-fiftieth of that sum.
Goldberg states further that Jews "are prodigious givers, providing between one- fourth and one-half of all Democratic campaign funds." Other writers had been putting the figure at between 50 and 80 percent of donations to Democratic candidates before massive injections of trade union and teachers union funds into Democratic campaigns in recent years.
Explaining how Jews have obtained their highly visible power in the Democratic party, not only in terms of policies favoring Israel but also in top-echelon Jewish appointments right across the spectrum of major government departments and in the Bill Clinton White House itself, Goldberg says, "Republicans have the entire world of American business to appeal to, Democrats have the Jews."
Exactly how all of the pro-Israel money is spent remains a matter of speculation, given the penchant for secrecy by both leaders of AIPAC and of the other national Jewish organizations involved in pro-Israel political activity, such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organzations, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and Hadassah. What is known is that receipts of pro-Israel PACs were about three times their actual doations to candidates until four years ago, when donors began complaining about extraordinarily high overhead and salaries being paid by pro-Israel PACs. In 1994 and 1996 receipts have been about twice as high as actual donations. PAC leaders say the extra money is spent on fund-raising mailings and events and on get-out-the vote election activities in districts where a pro-Israel incumbent is in trouble, or where the pro-Israel PACs are supporting a rival to an incumbent who has not been suffiently pro-Israel.
As for activities outside the PACs, AIPAC leaders long have boasted that for every dollar spent in direct PAC contributions to candidates, another dollar goes to candidates in direct personal contributions.
This cannot be dismissed as mere boasting. Jewish and pro-Israel candidates in major cities on both coasts generally do not have to accept pro-Israel PAC contributions, since they raise more than enough in direct individual Jewish contributions. California Democratic Congressmen Henry Waxman and Howard Berman were able to funnel such individual contributions to other pro-Israel candidates not only near their West Los Angeles/Hollywood districts, but all over the United States.
Such direct personal contributions also are very useful for pro-Israel candidates who do not accept PAC money. The result is the same, but the pro-Israel individual campaign contributions cannot be exposed in compilations of PAC donations by this magazine.
Individual donations also can be channeled directly to political parties in states where pro-Israel Senate or House candidates need help. There is little doubt that at least as much pro-Israel money supports candidates through such "soft money" contributions as through direct PAC donations to their campaign funds.
Previous AIPAC presidents have never been shy in claiming, in closed sessions with members only, sole or partial credit for the defeats of former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairmen Charles Percy (R-IL) and J. William Fulbright (D-AR) and of Sen. Roger Jepsen (R-IA), Rep. Paul Findley (R-IL) and Rep. Paul (Pete) McClosky (D-CA). At the same time AIPAC lobbyists know that many survivors of close elections, like House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), one of this year's top recipients of pro-Israel PAC funds, credit pro-Israel PACs for their victories. Similarly, at least one survivor of previous AIPAC campaigns to defeat him, Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, is determined never to risk AIPAC targeting again.
Until all this can be changed, either through campaign finance reforms forcing all candidates for federal office to raise the bulk of their campaign funds in their own constituencies, or the development of an effective counter-lobby to the AIPAC-directed political action committees, there is little hope of forcing Congress to adopt more even-handed Middle East policies, or to redirect U.S. foreign aid to countries that are in need or that make military bases available to the United States, rather than largely only to Israel and to Egypt and Jordan for signing peace agreements with the Jewish state.