Jewish donors split funding, give to multiple candidates

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

That's surprising, considering that Buttenwieser has given $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) — and to Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

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.