Despite rising ranks of GOP, Demos get most pro-Israel funds

WASHINGTON — Democratic congressional candidates have received two-thirds of all contributions from pro-Israel political action committees in the 1998 election cycle.

Democrats traditionally have been the recipients of most dollars flowing from pro-Israel interest groups. Before the Republicans took over both houses of Congress in 1994, Democrats were taking in nearly $3 for every $1 the Republicans received.

The last election, however, saw the money begin to shift toward the Republican legislators for the first time since the Federal Election Commission made data available. In 1996, Republicans took in a record number of contributions, as pro-Israel political action committees gave 60 percent of their outlays to Democrats and 40 percent to Republicans.

While some may have expected a tilting of the balance even further in favor of the Republicans, campaign finance experts predict that when reporting is completed, Democratic and Republican incumbents will have taken in roughly the same proportion of pro-Israel funding as they did two years ago.

The overall level of campaign contributions from pro-Israel PACs has remained consistent over the last few election cycles after experiencing a sharp drop-off in the early part of the decade.

So far, 33 pro-Israel PACs, some of which also consider domestic issues when distributing their funds, have contributed $1.9 million to congressional candidates, according to an analysis of FEC data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based, nonpartisan organization that analyzes the role of money in politics. Roughly the same number of PACs contributed about $2.3 million to candidates for both the 1994 and 1996 elections.

Contributions from pro-Israel PACs ranked third among all ideological and single-issue PACs, which overall have given 60 percent of their funds to Republicans and 40 percent to Democrats.

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. But PACs remain the only reliable way to track where Jews are giving their money.

While the Democrats maintain an edge in pro-Israel PAC funding, most senior Republicans who have consistently supported Israel and who hold key leadership positions or committee chairmanships have been rewarded with solid financial support from the pro-Israel PACs.

The largest pro-Israel PAC, National PAC, has bucked the trend. Through Sept. 1, it had given about 60 percent of its $267,000 in outlays to Republicans and 40 percent to Democrats.

Chuck Brooks, NATPAC's executive director and treasurer, said his committee's contributions are consistent with the makeup of Congress.

There is, however, some anecdotal evidence of increased support for Republicans in current campaigns.

Morris Amitay, founder and treasurer of the pro-Israel Washington PAC, said the Clinton administration's pressure tactics toward Israel earlier in the year in trying to advance the Mideast peace process has given Republican candidates the opportunity to voice unequivocal support for Israel.

"People are looking to those Republicans who have been more outspoken on behalf of Israel," said Amitay, whose committee had distributed $122,400 through Sept. 1, the majority of it to Democrats.

Among the leading recipients, the funds are more or less evenly distributed between Jewish and non-Jewish members of Congress. According to FEC statistics through last month, top recipients of pro-Israel PAC funding in the Senate include Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), taking in more than $137,000, followed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.), all of whom have received more than $60,000.

In the House, Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) has led the way with $15,500, followed by Reps. Steven Rothman (D-N.J.), Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills), Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), and Reps. David Obey (D-Wisc.) and Sander Levin (D-Mich.), all of whom have received upwards of $10,000.