Pro-Israel groups overwhelmingly give to Democrats: Will that change in 2020?
Dating back to 1990, pro-Israel groups have given more to Democratic candidates than Republicans in every election cycle. Conservative groups are laying the groundwork to reverse this longstanding trend.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), backed by conservative megadonor Sheldon Adelson, reportedly plans to spend $10 million in the 2020 elections to garner support for President Donald Trump from pro-Israel Jewish voters. That kind of spending would lead to an eye-opening increase for RJC, which contributed $496,097 to Republican candidates and made $1.7 million in independent expenditures to aid Republicans in 2018.
During the group’s annual summit last weekend, RJC board member Ari Fleischer told Politico that the group hopes to make additional inroads with large Jewish populations in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan to put Trump “over the top.”
The optimism from RJC comes as Republican groups continue attempts to capitalize on controversial comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). They’re also trying to make inroads with pro-Israel Jewish voters by supporting Trump’s controversial decisions to recognize Golan Heights as Israeli territory and move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. The push comes as Trump reportedly emboldens Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to annex parts of the West Bank should he come out on top in the April 9 election.
The majority of money from pro-Israel groups currently goes toward Democratic candidates, but substantial new investment into the RJC from Adelson could amount to a seismic shift in the realm of pro-Israel groups.
J Street, a liberal advocacy group which supports a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, has remained the top contributor among pro-Israel groups since the 2014 cycle. J Street distributed more than $4 million in the 2018 cycle, all of which went to Democrats.
The PAC functions as a conduit for donors who want to support J Street-endorsed candidates. Donors earmark their contribution toward a specific candidate, then J Street’s PAC distributes the money to the candidate. With this process, individual contribution limits remain in place, but candidates can take in large sums through J Street’s supporters. Combining direct PAC contributions and itemized earmarked contributions, J Street’s top two beneficiaries were Wisconsin Democrats Dan Kohl ($228,983) and Tammy Baldwin ($206,705).
Also acting as a conduit for its supporters, NorPAC was the second-highest spender, shelling out $1.1 million. The group is nonpartisan, committing to candidates of both parties that “demonstrate a genuine commitment to the strength, security, and survival of Israel.” But 63 percent of the money went to Democrats. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) received $205,519 in itemized contributions through the New Jersey-based group, more than any other candidate.
Though the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) doesn’t make direct contributions to candidates, its “Congressional Club” program incentivizes American members to contribute thousands toward pro-Israel congressional candidates. It’s difficult to decipher how much AIPAC members contribute toward candidates as they often don’t specify they are contributing as required by the program.
Each of the Democratic Presidential candidates declined to speak at AIPAC’s annual conference, drawing criticism from Republicans. AIPAC recently targeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with Facebook ads urging its supporters to tell Sanders that “America stands with Israel.”
Still, several high-profile Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, spoke at the AIPAC conference.
“I stand with Israel, proudly and unapologetically,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said at the conference. “When someone accuses American supporters of dual loyalty I say, accuse me.”
There are some signs that support for Democrats from pro-Israel donors is slightly wavering. Pro-Israel megadonor Haim Saban, who gave nearly $4.3 million to Democrats and liberal groups in 2018 and just $5,400 to Republicans, recently expressed concern to Politico about 2020 Democrats’ policies on the U.S.-Israel alliance. If influential donors connected to organizations such as NorPAC and AIPAC decide to shift their contributions from Democrats from Republicans, the pro-Israel landscape could easily undergo a major shift to the right.
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