J Street announced yesterday that its political action committee has raised $650,000 so far this year and that it's doling out dough for some 61 candidates, including 10 Jewish incumbents.
That puts the dovish pro-Israel group ahead of its fundraising totals for 2008, the last major election year; J Street officials say they're on track to raise over $1 million by the end of 2010.
Included on its list of recipients are some familiar Jewish names, including Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Il.) - all strong pro-Israel voices who don't seem scared off by J Street's reputation as the group major pro-Israel leaders love to hate.
Not so Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a former J Street ally who turned down J Street money this year.
J Street is also giving to Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), a three-term incumbent who, polls show, could be in real trouble in a state where tea party sentiment is running high.And it has given more than $75,000 to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who beat Sen. Arlen Specter in the recent Democratic primary. Sestak's race against former Rep. Pat Toomey, a Republican who is expected to win a lot of pro-Israel money, is shaping up as a critical test of J Street's clout.
Does $650,000 make J Street a major player in pro-Israel funding? Well, it's not chump change, but it pales in comparison to the millions donated by the pro-Israel PACs across the country, bundlers and individual givers who are influenced by AIPAC and other top pro-Israel groups.
Still, many observers say J Street is doing well for a two-year-old group that is challenging pro-Israel orthodoxy in American politics and that it's fundraising totals are a start in the group's effort to provide cover for politicians who support Israel but don't always support the positions of AIPAC and other major Jewish groups..
Ackerman's decision to take J Street money is particularly significant. Could the endorsement hurt him in his New York district?
Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn said probably not.
“Rep. Ackerman can never have his allegiances to Israel questioned,” Kahn said. “He and other members have accepted pro-Israel money before from individuals and PACs that are more right-wing than many in the general pro-Israel community. This decision by Rep. Ackerman will not alter his very key role; in fact, it may enhance it.”
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