Chafee Survives Challenge

By Beth Schwartzapfel

Published September 13, 2006, issue of September 15, 2006.

Stephen Laffey received 11th-hour support from several pro-Israel political action committees, but he still fell short of defeating incumbent Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island’s GOP primary.

Though Rhode Island is the nation’s smallest state, this contested Senate race has national implications: Democrats have targeted the seat as part of their national strategy to win back the Senate. Chafee has angered the pro-Israel PACs with his support of the Palestinians and his criticism of Israeli government policies. Most recently, he blocked the nomination of John Bolton, who is seen by many Jewish groups as an ally of Israel, to the post of ambassador to the United Nations; criticized new Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, and urged the Bush administration to “have a more balanced approach” to the peace process.

Early in the year, the pro-Israel Washington Political Action Committee donated $5,000, the maximum amount allowed, to Laffey, mayor of Cranston and a staunch conservative. Federal Election Commission records show that the Los Angeles-based pro-Israel Citizens Organized PAC followed up with a $5,000 donation in June.

During that same period, the conservative Club for Growth, and other rightwing PACs, spent more than $50,000 in independent expenditures, campaign contributions and in-kind contributions to defeat Chafee, who is far to the left of most Republican lawmakers in Washington on taxes, the environment and Iraq.

Laffey spokesperson Nachama Soloveichik told the Forward that an additional four pro-Israel PACs, including the prominent Chicago-based CityPAC, contributed a “nice amount of money” to the campaign in the third quarter, but Soloveichik conceded that it comprised a “small percentage of the total amount” of contributions.

Spokesmen for these PACs either declined comment or were not available.

Reasons for the less-than-anticipated financial support include the fact that PACs often have rules preventing them from contributing to primary races, especially those against incumbents. Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that the Democratic candidate, the state’s former attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse, is favored to win in November and is a candidate whom members of pro-Israel political groups consider to be strong on Israel. As a result, some pro-Israel PACs chose to make donations to Whitehouse’s campaign. “In November, Whitehouse will win,” said Mark Vogel, who is chairman of NationalPAC, the largest pro-Israel PAC in the country, “so I thought the logical way to approach the race is to put all our chips on Sheldon Whitehouse.”



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