Pro-Israel group helps raise $500,000 for embattled Menendez


Sen. Robert Menendez speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., March 6, 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A leading pro-Israel political action committee says it has helped raise over $500,000 for Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a pro-Israel leader in the Senate who is in an unexpectedly tight race.

NORPAC’s all-out push for Menendez this election cycle is notable because Republicans currently lead in the Senate by just 50-49 and Democrats hope to wrest it from them in November, along with the U.S. House of Representatives. President Donald Trump is warning supporters that a Democratic win in either chamber could scuttle his agenda.

The most recent NORPAC fundraiser for Menendez was on Monday, at $1,000 a plate.

Ben Chouake, NORPAC’s president, told JTA in a recent interview that the group’s backing for Menendez was typical of its support for incumbent lawmakers who are leaders in the pro-Israel cause. That discipline is traditional for pro-Israel fundraising, and the polarized times have not changed the approach, he said.

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“We follow the rules,” no matter the party, he said. “It simplifies everything because it’s simple and straightforward. A guy like Bob Menendez gets huge support because he was a huge champion on our issues.”

As a PAC, NORPAC may not give more than $10,000 to a candidate in an election season, but it may organize fundraisers where donors cut individual checks and hand them straight to the campaign. The maximum individual donation is $2,700.

Menendez bucked President Barack Obama as one of only four Senate Democrats to oppose the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Corporate executive Bob Hugin, the Republican nominee for Senate in the state, is running an unexpectedly close race in blue New Jersey, within single digits of Menendez in the polls.

Menendez was tarred by a corruption charge, although he was acquitted earlier this year. NORPAC donors helped fend Menendez’s defense, Chouake said.

NORPAC has also in recent years held fundraisers for Republicans in tight House races: Dan Donovan in New York’s 11th District, comprising Staten Island, and Leonard Lance in northern New Jersey’s 7th District.

NORPAC also held a fundraiser last week for Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator from North Dakota who is facing a tight race in a state where Trump won handily in 2016. That meeting netted $25,000 for her, Chouake said.

“She’s an incumbent, she qualifies, it’s close, she needs it,” he said. Chouake noted that the minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — who is Jewish and who also opposed the Iran deal — asked NORPAC to hold the fundraiser, and was present.

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