By Ben Sales
NEW YORK (JTA) — The Republican Jewish Coalition has 55 members on its board of directors. So far, only nine have donated to Donald Trump’s campaign.
A JTA survey of federal campaign contribution records shows that more than 80 percent of the RJC board has declined to donate to its party’s presidential nominee, either directly or through a body called the Trump Victory Committee, which is jointly run by the campaign and the Republican National Committee.
The numbers stand in stark contrast to previous election cycles. In 2012 and 2008, the vast majority of the current board members donated to Mitt Romney and John McCain, respectively, with many giving the maximum direct donation of $5,000.
This year, while many of the board members donated to Republican presidential candidates during the primaries, most have kept their wallets closed as Election Day approaches.
Seven of the board members, including former White House employees or elected officials, have not donated in any of the past three election cycles. Of the remaining 48, all but six donated to Romney and McCain – a rate of 87 percent. This year, only about 19 percent have donated to Trump as of Oct. 27, the most recent date for which figures are available.
The Trump campaign was bolstered this week when Sheldon Adelson, the Jewish casino mogul and megadonor, gave $25 million to Future 45, a super PAC opposing Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. And the other eight Trump donors on the RJC board have given hefty sums to the Victory Committee, which allows donations of up to $449,400. Donations directly to the campaign max out this year at $2,700 each for the primary and general election cycles.
Still, the RJC board’s haul for Trump is lower than it was four years ago for Romney. That year, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, each gave $15 million donations to Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, for a total of $30 million.
Besides Adelson, RJC board members gave more than $2 million to the Romney campaign and Romney’s Victory Fund. This year, the Trump donors on the board besides Adelson have given less than $500,000 – just one quarter of the 2012 total.
Marc Goldman, the former head of Farmland Dairies, who is one of the handful of Trump donors, said his fellow board members may be reticent to donate because Trump is lagging in the polls or they oppose statements he has made.
“Up until this point, they were believing the polls that the mass media was talking about, that Trump had no shot,” Goldman said. “So they weren’t going to waste money. Obviously various people have had various reactions to Trump. Some clearly have had negative reactions.”
But Goldman, who has given $37,700 to the campaign, said he does not understand “how any portion of Jews can vote for Hillary or any Democrat, when you look at what the Democratic position is on such a broad variety of issues, Israel being one of them.”
Most of the RJC board members remain active donors to Republican candidates, giving to congressional and Senate races, as well as political action committees and the Republican National Committee, which coordinates campaign efforts for the party.
A spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition noted in an email response to JTA that members’ donations to the RNC, as well as to a range of PACs, contribute to the presidential campaign, and that “our members have many ways of leveraging their influence and support.”
The RJC’s drop in donations to the presidential campaign reflects a longstanding ambivalence that the group – as well as leading Jewish conservatives – have had toward the GOP nominee. At an RJC forum for candidates in December, ahead of the primaries, Trump raised eyebrows when he said, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” Also when the real estate magnate and reality TV star said, “I’m a negotiator, like you folks.”
When Trump clinched the nomination in May, the group sent out a tepid announcement congratulating him. It offered no praise for Trump but criticized Clinton, his eventual rival for the presidency. The group vowed, “Along with the Presidential race, the RJC will be working hard to hold on to our majorities in the Senate and the House.”
Prominent Jewish Republicans have also been some of Trump’s most outspoken opponents. Columnists such as Charles Krauthammer, Bret Stephens and Jennifer Rubin have all come out against Trump. Bill Kristol, editor of the right-wing Weekly Standard magazine, led an unsuccessful effort to draft a third-party candidate. Dan Senor, a key Romney aide, has also criticized Trump.
Of the nine RJC board members who have donated, several have taken lead roles in the Trump Victory Committee. Lewis Eisenberg, a private equity investor, is the committee’s finance chairman. Three of its vice chairmen are also RJC board members: Mel Sembler, the ambassador to Italy under President George W. Bush; Ron Weiser, Bush’s first-term ambassador to Slovakia, and Elliot Broidy, a Los Angeles investor.
According to FEC data, however, Broidy has yet to donate any money to Trump.
Eisenberg has donated more than $35,000 to Trump.
“I’m extremely enthusiastic about a Republican president, who will be Donald Trump,” Eisenberg told JTA in September. “I think he is a strong advocate for Israel, a strong advocate for justice and order.”
Weiser, who has given more than $150,000 to the Trump campaign, told JTA that he believes Clinton will be bad for Israel, and that donations to the Victory Fund help get out the vote, which also boosts candidates down the ballot. He said he “didn’t really think about” the dearth of donations to the campaign from RJC board members.
Most of the RJC’s Trump donors supported other candidates in the presidential primaries. Eisenberg gave $2,700 to Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio of South Carolina and Florida, respectively. Last year, Goldman gave $25,000 to a super PAC supporting the bid by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
At the end of September, more than a year later, he gave his first donation to Trump.
“As large a field as things started with, there were some people who were very committed to whoever the candidates were who they were favoring,” he said. “As the clarity of the binary choice becomes clear, we will find more and more people recognizing the danger of another Democrat.”