Jewish Money in U.S. Elections

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We recently examined whether the American Jewish vote matters in United States presidential elections.  The answer: maybe.

But uncertain though we may be about the power of the Jewish vote, the tale of Jewish money in elections is more easily told:  Jews give a TON of money to presidential elections.

U.S. elections go hand-in-hand with money.   As of July 31, President Obama had raised $351.6 million for his reelection campaign, and challenger Mitt Romney had raised $194.8 million (The New York Times).  These numbers are multiplied many times when added to the expenditures made by the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, and Political Action Committees (PACs).  Almost 800,000 Americans have given over $200 to a campaign (Open Secrets).  Many more have given smaller, non-recorded, amounts.  It’s not inaccurate to say that many billions of dollars will be spent on the 2012 presidential elections.

Jews are very well represented among donors, particularly on the Democratic side.  Ron Kampeas, writing at The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, notes that “estimates over the years have reckoned that Jewish donors provide between one-third and two-thirds of the party’s money.”  Similarly, David Freedlander wrote in the New York Observer that “According to some estimates, nearly 60 percent of the money raised by the Democratic National Committee is donated by Jews, and any drop in support for the president’s re-election could endanger the campaign’s ambitious goal of $1 billion.” Steven Windmueller at The New York Jewish Week claims that “Jewish donors have generated as much as 45 cents of every dollar raised by Democrats and provide a growing base of support for Republican candidates.”

A look at the top donors for the current election yields many Jewish names:  Sheldon Adelson ($5 million to Romney), Jeffrey Katzenberg ($2 million to Obama), Irwin Jacobs ($2 million to Obama), Paul Singer ($1 million to Romney), etc.  Some of the donor lists look like synagogue roll calls.

Though the small size of the Jewish vote (4 percent of the general vote) might not captivate every presidential candidate, it’s hard to overlook the enormity of Jewish money.  Certainly the importance of money in elections can be, and continually is, debated (For example, David Brooks of The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect, and Stephen J. Dubner of the Freakonomics blog all argue that money is not as important as is commonly thought), but every American politician who is in a close race wants a bit more money for another advertisement or another rally.  And these politicians are grateful for any donors who step up.

So to make a short story even shorter, what we American Jews lack in population we make up for through our very large campaign contributions.