The largest super PAC backing Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race is turning its fire on rival Bernie Sanders — and it’s doing it with Jewish money.
At least eight of the top 12 donors the pro-Clinton Priorities USA Action are Jewish — and one more is married to a Jew. Jews have contributed over half of the $41 million raised so far by the super PAC.
Though the group had planned to save its money for the general election, Priorities will now spend millions in upcoming primaries to promote early voting among groups likely to back Clinton, and to run pro-Clinton ads in South Carolina, according to a report in the Washington Post.
The change in strategy comes after Sanders became the first Jew ever to win a presidential primary race, winning 60% of the vote in New Hampshire on February 9.
Sanders, who has eschewed super PAC support, has made criticism of Clinton’s reliance on big-money Wall Street donors a centerpiece of his campaign. PBS newscaster Judy Woodruff nodded to that line of attack while moderating the Democratic debate on February 11, noting that two large Jewish donors to the pro-Clinton super PAC are “wealthy financiers.”
“Nearly half of your financial sector donations appear to come from just two wealthy financiers, George Soros and Donald Sussman,” Woodruff said, asking Clinton whether her claim that her Wall Street donors expected no special treatment in return for their contributions also went for major Republican donors.
Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire investor, and Sussman, a hedge fund manager, are just two members of an elite group of just over a dozen Jewish mega-donors who have given a total of $25 million to Priorities USA Action, more than half of what the group has raised so far this cycle.
Clinton sought to distance herself from the super PAC during February 12 debate, noting that Priorities was originally organized to support Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, and that, as is required by campaign finance rules, her presidential campaign does not coordinate with the group.
Yet Clinton has helped Priorities raise money, which is permitted by campaign finance rules, and has met with the group’s donors.
Those donors are overwhelmingly Jewish.
Soros, who is among the nation’s largest donors to liberal causes, has given $7 million to Priorities USA Action so far this cycle. Sussman, who recently separated from his wife Chellie Pingree, a Democratic Congresswoman from Maine, has given another $2.5 million.
Other major Jewish donors to the group include “Power Rangers” super-mogul Haim Saban, who has given $2.5 million (his wife Cheryl, who is not Jewish, gave another $2.5 million); Herbert Sandler, former owner of a large savings & loan association called Golden West, who gave $1.5 million, and Slim-Fast billionaire S. Daniel Abraham, who gave $1 million.
Also on the 2015 Priorities USA Action donor rolls are Jewish Hollywood figures Steven Spielberg, who gave $1 million, his former DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave $1 million, and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, who gave $500,000. (Abrams’s wife Kathleen McGrath gave another $500,000.)
Priorities is the second-largest 2016 super PAC after Right to Rise, which supports Jeb Bush. It has raised three times more than the next-largest liberal-leaning super PAC, the climate change-focused NextGen Climate Action, according to the website OpenSecrets.org.
Since its creation in 2011 by allies of President Obama, Priorities USA Action has been something of a Jewish shop. Among its largest donors in the 2012 cycle were Katzenberg, Abraham, Spielberg, and Qualcomm founder Irwin M. Jacobs.
Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis on Twitter @joshnathankazis
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Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.