New Jersey Jewish Standard

Money speaks, politicians listen

Larry Yudelson | Local |
Published: 19 October 2006

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who has come under pressure to resign because of his alleged inaction in the Mark Foley/congressional page sex scandal, was scheduled to visit the Englewood home of Dr. Ben Chouake earlier this week, but Chouake canceled the event at the last minute, fearing the speaker's presence would draw protests there.

The Record reported the cancellation on Monday but omitted mention of the fact that Chouake is president of Norpac, a locally based pro-Israel political action committee that pushes support for candidates strong on U.S.-Israel ties. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Chouake would not comment on whether or not the event had been planned as an official Norpac fund-raiser, but, The Jewish Standard has learned, the PAC has contributed to Hastert's campaign this year.

According to the Website Campaignmoney.com, which tracks political contributions, Norpac contributed $',000 to Hastert in '006, as well as $15,000 to the campaign of Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), which languished after critics scored his reaction to news about his hidden Jewish heritage and slurs against a campaign worker from his opponent's team. (Chouake said the Website most likely included "bundling" of private contributions into Norpac's figures.) Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is another politician up for re-election whose right-wing political views have caused moderates and left-wingers to rally against him but who has received Norpac contributions.

Norpac is a single-issue PAC, Chouake stressed in his interview with the Standard. Santorum is "one of the strongest supporters of U.S.-Israel relations in the Senate," he said, which is why Norpac supports him in turn.

"Lots of people have problems with one-issue PACs or one-issue organizations," Chouake said, "but when a union advocates for the union, no one gives them a hard time about it."

Norpac's approximately 4,000 members have voiced little concern about who receives funding from the group, its president said — just as long as they promote pro-Israel positions.

"The vast majority understand what we do," Chouake said. "Whenever you support someone who is on one side of the spectrum, you get some members who are disappointed with what you're doing. But ultimately people understand that U.S.-Israel relations is a bipartisan issue and we need to be grateful that it's a bipartisan issue."

Rabbi Menachem Genack, the rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union's kashrut division and Norpac's founder, said that while he personally does not support some of the candidates receiving Norpac contributions — like Hastert, Allen, and Santorum — he understands why they had received its support.

"This is a one-issue PAC," Genack said, echoing Chouake. "Within the Englewood [and other local] communities, there are opinions on a lot of issues. The purpose of this PAC is the strength of Israel and survival of Israel. They support the issue they are concerned about." And that means focusing solely on a candidate's records on Israel. Genack, a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates, including former President Bill Clinton, is confident that the House, and possibly the Senate, will switch to Democratic control after next month's elections, and then, he said, Norpac will focus its energies more on the Democrats.

"It is important that any pro-Israel PAC be a bipartisan PAC," Genack said. "There's been strong support for Israel on both sides [in Congress] … and as a PAC we maintain that support."

According to Campaignmoney.com, 15 Republicans received Norpac contributions in '006, while 16 Democrats received funds, including Rep. Steve Rothman, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Sen. Edward Kennedy. Norpac supports only incumbent candidates and not challengers because it bases its allocations on voting records, Chouake said. Thus, he said, Norpac contributed to the campaign of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez but not to his challenger, state Sen. Tom Kean. Even though Kean is a sitting state senator, Chouake said, he is not considered an incumbent in this race because he has no congressional voting record.

"There's very little a person can do better than produce a record of achievement. A challenger has very much of an uphill battle," Chouake said. "There's also a matter of demonstrating loyalty to a candidate who's been good on your issue."

Rebecca Boroson contributed to this report.