A small group of Jewish private equity investors, hedge fund managers and real estate developers are playing an outsized role in Republican hopeful Mitt Romney’s fundraising efforts.
Top Jewish donors account for more than 10% of the $36 million raised by Romney’s super PAC.
While Romney has long been the consensus pick of establishment Jewish Republicans, many of the super PAC’s biggest Jewish givers are outside that establishment group. A few have hardly any history of Republican giving, and some gave thousands in individual donations to the Obama campaign in 2008.
“It sounds like these guys, they have a personal vested interest in making sure [Obama] gets beat,” said Fred Zeidman, a prominent fundraiser for the Romney campaign, of the Jewish super PAC donors in the financial services industry.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Romney’s super PAC, called Restore Our Future, has spent $30 million campaigning against Romney’s opponents and $900,000 in support of the former Massachusetts governor.
Created in 2010 by a series of judicial rulings, super PACs differ from traditional political action committees in that federal regulations don’t limit the amount donors can contribute. While a super PAC cannot formally coordinate its activities with a candidate, it can explicitly support a particular one. So while individual donors were previously limited to giving their candidate a few thousand dollars in an election year, now they can give as much as they want.
The emergence of super PACs in the 2012 presidential race has changed the way in which money and influence work. Big political moneymen previously raised funds from friends and colleagues. While the campaigns still maintain their networks of fundraisers, super PACs now allow individuals to give as much as a major bundler would have raised from scores of givers.
The top ranks of the super PAC donors are necessarily limited to the ultra-wealthy. Romney’s super PAC in particular is well seeded with hedge fund managers and private equity investors, including people associated with Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney founded. While people from other industries, demographics and interest groups may be fundraising for Romney, the campaign has not disclosed its list of volunteer fundraisers. The Obama campaign has released its list of 2012 volunteer fundraisers, and all presidential campaigns revealed their bundlers in 2008.
One of the Romney campaign’s major Jewish volunteer fundraisers, former Republican National Committee finance chairman Mel Sembler, said that the super PAC attracts a certain sort of donor. “They’re probably usually business associates, close friends and major supporters of Romney,” Sembler said. “I think it all depends on who the people running the super PAC know.”
Sembler, like other big GOP Jewish bundlers, is a board member of the RJC. While some of the Jewish givers to the super PAC fit that profile, others don’t.
The Forward identified a dozen Jews among the 120 donors of $100,000 or more to Restore Our Future as of the end of January.
Among the donors are two RJC board members: hedge fund magnate Paul Singer, a Republican kingmaker, and real estate developer David Flaum, the RJC’s national chairman, who gave $100,000. Singer was among the super PAC’s largest donors, giving $1 million in mid-October 2011. That gift came two weeks after Singer’s early choice, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, announced that he would not seek the Republican nomination for president.
Others among the major Jewish super PAC donors are deeply entrenched in Republican Jewish politics. Bruce Kovner of the hedge fund Caxton Associates, who gave $500,000, is a former chairman of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a onetime backer of the now-defunct neoconservative-oriented paper The New York Sun. A 2005 New York magazine profile dubbed Kovner a “neoconservative godfather.”
But some of the Jewish givers to the Romney super PAC have a history of giving to Democratic candidates and Democratic Party groups. Steven Roth, chairman of the real estate investment firm Vornado Realty Trust, gave $100,000 to the Romney super PAC. But he and his wife were among the top donors in the country to Democratic candidates and party groups in the 2006 election cycle, according to [CRP. Roth raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for John McCain in 2008, though he and his wife were also top individual donors rated “solidly Democratic” by CRP.
Paul Fireman of the private equity firm Fireman Capital Partners, former chairman of the shoe company Reebok, gave $250,000 to Restore Our Future. He made individual donations of a few thousand dollars to Obama’s campaign in 2008 and made donations of $30,000 and $22,000 to Democratic Party groups in 2008 and 2009, respectively. But Fireman also gave to a pro-Romney PAC in 2007.
David Tepper of the hedge fund Appaloosa Management, who gave the Romney super PAC $375,000, also appears to have little history as a Republican donor. Though he gave to Rudolph Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, Tepper also made a $23,000 donation to a Democratic Party-related organization that year. He was reportedly among the donors urging Christie to enter the Republican race.
Hedge fund manager John Paulson, known for his success during the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis, was a $1 million donor to the super PAC. Paulson, a member of the board of New York’s 92nd Street Y, has made donations to both political parties, including a $30,000 gift to a Democratic Party-related organization in 2009. He gave to Giuliani, McCain and Romney in the last election cycle.
Marc Leder and Rodger Krouse, co-CEOs of the private equity firm Sun Capital Partners, Inc., each gave $125,000 to the super PAC. The two also co-hosted a September fundraiser for the Romney campaign. While both Leder and Krouse gave to Romney and McCain in 2008, Krouse also gave to the Obama campaign in 2007.
Other $100,000 donors include Brad Bloom of the private equity firm Berkshire Partners, investor Thomas Kaplan of the Electrum Group, and Stephen Ross, a real estate developer with The Related Companies and an owner of the Miami Dolphins. All have a history of Republican giving.
None of the 12 major Jewish super donors to Restore Our Future responded to requests for comment from the Forward that were submitted through their business offices.
RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said that the presence of former Obama supporters on the list of Romney super PAC donors validated his argument that Jews are moving away from the president. “I’ve been saying all along that there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse out there, especially in the Jewish community, with people who supported Obama in 2008 who are not supporting him in 2012,” Brooks said.
But Democratic pollster Mark Mellman said that the movements of a few individuals had no broader implications. “In every election cycle there are individuals who, for personal reasons or financial reasons or business reasons, move from one party to the other, and it’s hardly surprising that a couple people end up in the Romney camp who have given to Democrats in the past,” Mellman said.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.