Meet the pro-Israel donors who boosted Cory Booker’s Senate run

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Incoming Senator Cory Booker in September 2012. (Photo: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr)

Incoming Senator Cory Booker in September 2012. (Photo: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr)

Senator-elect Cory Booker, who was boosted during his campaign by pro-Israel donors, is set to arrive in the halls of Congress on October 31.

Booker made his name as Newark mayor and won a special election to replace New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg last week. He defeated a Tea Party Republican though his campaign was rocky, marred by accusations that Booker was a showboat. A New York Times article, featuring political ethics watchdogs who questioned his large stake in a Silicon Valley company that could have made him rich, added to his woes. (He got rid of his stake in the company after the article was published.) Nevertheless, he won both his primary and general races easily.

Booker’s fundraising overwhelmed his opponents during the Democratic primary, and a group of donors with hawkish views on Israel helped him win the cash race, though foreign policy played little role in the election. The Senator-elect’s views on Israel have been shaped by his close ties to people like Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, so the money was more of a bonus than an inducement to push the cause of the Jewish state. As he enters the Senate, he could become one of its more outspoken pro-Israel members at a time when the body could vote on new sanctions on Iran and bills to upgrade the U.S.-Israel relationship even further.

In late July and early August, a newly formed Super PAC called the Mobilization Fund dropped $532,000 in cash on Booker. The money was used for the “pro-Booker ground game — canvassing operations, literature and telephone calls,” according to the Center for Public Integrity’s Adam Wollner. 

According to tax records I reviewed the Mobilization Fund only has six donors. They are all hedge fund leaders or corporate CEOs, and 4 of the 6 are big on Israel. Here they are:

– Hedge fund manager Seth Klarman, who gave the Super PAC $100,000, has given money to settler groups through the Central Fund of Israel and spends $1 million a year on Birthright. Klarman is also on the board of the Israel Project, gives a lot of money to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and is co-chairman of the David Project’s board, an organization promoting Israel on campus that has targeted pro-Palestinian professors.

– Michael Fux, the CEO of a sleep products company, also gave $100,000 to the Mobilization Fund. Fux has sat on the board of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, which spends money on Israeli soldiers, since at least 2009.

– Cousins Laurie and Andrew Tisch gave a little less–$50,000– to the Super PAC, they’re likewise big on promoting Israel. Andrew Tisch was a trustee at the Jewish Communal Fund in 2001 when they gave over $76,000 to the media group CAMERA, which badgers news outlets to take a more pro-Israel view, and $102,400 to the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Fund. While he was president of the Jewish Communal Fund in 2003, $100,000 was given to Nefesh B’Nefesh, which promotes American Jews emigrating to Israel, including to West Bank settlements. Tisch has also been a trustee for a number of years at the AIPAC-spinoff think tank called the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

– Laurie Tisch, is the vice president of the Tisch Foundation. In 2005, the fund gave $15,000 to the American Jewish Committee and $50,000 to the Anti-Defamation League.

Both Tisches and Fux also gave directly to Booker’s Senate campaign in addition to another pro-Booker PAC. Michael Steinhardt, another pro-Israel hedge funder who gives lots of money to Birthright, spent $5,000 on CoryPAC this year. And Booker was helped by NORPAC, a pro-Israel donor group. In April, for instance, NORPAC raised over $100,000 for the Senator-elect.

Booker could soon find himself voting on sanctioning Iran over its nuclear energy program. He may have the opportunity to vote on a new package of sanctions if lawmakers brush off the Obama administration’s objections to more punitive measures while the U.S. is engaged in diplomacy with the Islamic Republic. Considering his pro-sanctions rhetoric, Booker would probably vote yes–a vote that would please his backers.

Correction: The original article stated that Cory Booker got rich from his stake in a technology company. It has been corrected to make clear that Booker could have gotten rich from the company, and that he sold his shares in the company in the midst of his Senate campaign.

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