Jews among rich who put checkbooks behind candidates

Kenneth Feinberg  Cooley Law School
Kenneth Feinberg
Cooley Law School

The combined $1.8 billion that presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have raised as of Sept. 30 doesn’t top the combined total of $2.1 billion raised in the 2012 presidential contest, but it is a whopping amount of money — with some big spenders supplying big sums.

Among the top givers are wealthy Jews.  Business magnate George Soros gave more than $25 million to Clinton. Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson has given the same amount to Trump.  Both are well known — even infamous — for putting millions of their dollars behind candidates and causes they support.

Federal Election Commission rules allows donors to give a maximum of $2,700 directly to a candidate, and $5,000 to a political action committee. But donors may contribute unlimited amounts to super PACs, which are not subject to the same amount of regulation.

But most donors — even reasonably super-rich ones — cut a much lower profile. Here are four Jewish donors you might not know about.  Hailing from different areas in the United States, they have given the maximum amount to multiple campaigns as well as to PACs.

Kenneth Feinberg, Washington

Kenneth Feinberg is a Washington attorney who is perhaps best known for overseeing the disbursement of government compensation for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It was shortly after the attacks that he met then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was working to secure compensation for her constituents who had been affected.

“She worked hand in glove with me to make sure that we maximized compensation for victims’ families in the World Trade Center [attack],” he said.

Feinberg, a Democrat, said the two metrics he uses when deciding whether to donate to a candidate is how well he knows the candidate and whether he thinks he or she can be effective in office.

Since January 2015 he has donated more than $53,000, which includes to Clinton’s presidential campaigns and a number of congressional races. One race on Feinberg’s mind this year is the one for Senate in Wisconsin between Republican incumbent Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Russ Feingold, who served in the Senate from 1993 to 2011.

“That’s as much a personal contribution based on my respect for Sen. Feingold,” Feinberg said. The two got to know each other when they worked together on the staff of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy in the 1970s.

Feinberg said he chose where to put his dollars in 2016 based on Clinton’s and Feingold’s demonstrated devotion to public service. But increasingly favorable polls for Clinton is no reason for donors to close their wallets, he said.

“Sen. Kennedy never took anything for granted, and it isn’t over ‘til it’s over.”


Ron Gidwitz, Chicago

Ron Gidwitz is the founder of the financial firm GCG Partners and has been a reliable Republican donor going back at least to 2000, according to FEC records, giving $1.3 million to Republican candidates and committees since that year.

Gidwitz was an early supporter of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republican primary, but later joined the efforts of Donald Trump’s campaign, becoming one of its fundraisers and hosting the Republican nominee at an event in July according, according to the Associated Press.

He is not among the Jewish Republicans who have disavowed Trump for his crude and controversial rhetoric. The Wall Street Journal reported that through July, the Republican Jewish Coalition had given just $5,400 to the Trump campaign, compared with three times that amount to Mitt Romney’s campaign four years ago. Another investigation by the political website 538 found that Jews as a whole donated more than $50 million to the Romney campaign compared with $15 million this year, although this data relied solely on “Jewish-sounding” names.

Gidwitz is not without reservations about Trump, but was quoted by AP as saying that the cost of a Clinton presidency would outweigh anything else. He voiced concern for a Democratic-majority Congress and a Supreme Court with justices appointed by Clinton.

“Do you want her naming Supreme Court justices? Do you want her to win in a landslide that sweeps away the Republican Senate majority? Those are the touchstones for me,” Gidwitz told AP.


Mark Heising and Liz Simons, Atherton, Calif.

Mark Heising, who lives in the country’s wealthiest zip code, is the founder of San Francisco investment firm Medley Partners. Together with his wife, Liz Simons, he runs a family charitable foundation devoted to research in clean energy and environmental sustainability. The two were ranked by The Washington Post this year as among Clinton’s Top 20 all-time donors, going back to her first Senate run in 2000. Heising and Simons came in at number 14 with $522,300.

In 2013, Simons was named to a leadership council within the Clinton Foundation that was aimed at improving early childhood development. In 2012, the couple also donated to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and to Clinton running mate Tim Kaine’s Virginia campaign for the Senate.

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