Jewish Review of ‘Big Money’

The main quote in Politico reporter Ken Vogel‘s new book, ‘Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp—on the trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics, is from Mark Hanna, an early political fundraiser who was famously quoted as saying: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.” Vogel’s theme throughout the book is “Forget the 1 Percent. Only a tiny elite really matter in big money politics.” It just so happens that the “tiny elite” includes a significant amount of Jewish donors on both sides of the aisle. Jeffrey Katzenberg, George Soros, and Haim Saban on the left. Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, and Steve Wynn on the right.

Vogel details the behind-the-scenes efforts by Romney’s Jewish donors, Florida developer Mel Sembler and Houston lawyer Fred Zeidman, to convince Adelson not to donate $20 million to Newt Gingrich‘s super PAC. At the time, Vogel was able to score an interview with Adelson himself, after Vogel published rumors about Adelson’s pledges to Newt in Politico. Throughout the interview, Adelson used several interesting metaphors including when he began the conversation by saying, “I’m a little frustrated that my head of PR called you, and you said you don’t want to accept a message from the horse’s mouth. So I figured, I’m the horse’s mouth——I’m the horse—— and I’m going to call you and I’m going to neigh to you, and tell you that what you printed is wrong.” Later, Vogel asked Adelson why he thought Gingrich would make the best president. “Why do you want to have a steak for dinner?” he answered. Vogel: “Because steak tastes good.” Adelson: “Steak tastes good. Okay, well, who would be good for the country? That’s why I want him to be President.” Vogel persisted and asked Adelson if he was sure he hadn’t spoken to anyone about donating $20 million to Newt’s super PAC which led Adelson to repeat over and over, “I’ve made no commitment. I’ve stated no amounts” until he was sure Vogel got Adelson’s picture which was that “he liked talking a big game about his political spending, but didn’t like anyone else talking about it.” Vogel further painted Adelson’s picture by quoting President George W. Bush who reportedly described a White House meeting with Adelson as “this crazy Jewish billionaire, yelling at me.”

Vogel also focused on a liberal donor club called the ‘Democracy Alliance’ and, in particular, on the richest DA partner, George Soros. Vogel describes Soros as “a Hungarian-born Jew who had ridden out the Holocaust in Budapest, fleeing after World War II to London, where he worked as a railway porter and waiter while studying economics.” At a 2010 DA conference, Soros addressed a small elite group in a hotel suite and told them, “We have just lost this election [2010 Midterms], we need to draw a line. And if this president can’t do what we need, it is time to start looking somewhere else.” Democrats spun “somewhere else” to mean “focus their giving on groups that could push Obama and congressional Democrats to the left on liberal legislative priorities,” and not that liberal donors should support a primary challenge to Obama.

It wasn’t just the political donors that received attention in Vogel’s book, political operatives were profiled as well. Vogel describes Charlie and Lisa Spies as “the power couple of Republican Jewish money in politics.” Charlie Spies was Romney’s counsel for his 2008 campaign, before deciding to leave the official Romney inner-circle to launch Romney’s Restore Our Future PAC, a super PAC that pioneered the trend of single candidate-focused outside spending groups. Vogel writes that immediately after Charlie registered Restore Our Future in October 2010, Romney hired Lisa as Jewish Outreach Director. Vogel points to this as “one of the many arrangements in the new big-money politics that seemed to wink at the irrelevance of the rules [which barred coordination between super PACs and campaigns].” In a profile for JNS after the election, Ari Werth described Lisa as “Romney’s political Shadchan,” and indeed, Vogel details how she helped recruit several Jewish bundlers including Weil Gotshal, & Manges partner Phil Rosen and St. Louis investor Sam Fox as well as arranging for kosher catering at various campaign events.

For those who are less familiar with the Spies’s background, Vogel writes how Charlie converted to Judaism before marrying Lisa who grew up in a kosher home in Milwaukee. Charlie now attends weekly services at Rabbi Levi Shemtov‘s Chabad synagogue in D.C., and Vogel adds that Lisa was offered to appear on the 2010 Bravo reality series The Real Housewives of D.C. although she turned it down as it wouldn’t jive with the necessary discretion in the couple’s shared line of work. According to Vogel, “Lisa Spies is the leading Republican fundraiser in that niche of American Jews for whom Israel was top voting issue” and in case readers had any doubts about her focus, Vogel includes a tidbit that “her email signature included Mark Hanna‘s infamous quote about the two most important things in politics. “The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.””

In illustrating the Obama super PAC Priorites USA’s difficulties convincing donors to part with their money, Vogel described a rare instance in which Bill Burton pitched Jewish donor Amy Goldman for twenty minutes unsure if he connected or not at which point Goldman responded, “I want to help you” and “glancing around her home office in search of her purse, then fishing around in it and pulling out her checkbook. She started to write a check, as Burton’s eyes grew wider with each successive zero, until it read $1 million.” Priorities USA staff generally had to reach out to donors several times before receiving a check the fraction of the size but “Goldman was an easy sell and seemed to take quickly to high-dollar politics.”

Other Jewish donors who were mentioned in the book included hedge fund manager Marc Lasry who hosted a private $40,000-a-head reception for President Obama featuring Bill Clinton; Philadelphia lawyer Daniel Berger; Obama’s 2008 finance chair and current Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker; Paul Singer; and Hollywood moguls Haim Saban and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Only a small group of folks are willing to donate at such a significant level even though, as Vogel points out, such efforts continiously fail as Sheldon Adelson found out in 2012 and George Soros in 2004. In the book, Vogel recounts an Obama fundraising event where the President quoted his mentor, Abner Mikva, a former federal judge and congressman from Chicago. “Mikva told Obama that “being friends with a politician is like perpetually having a kid in college. Every year, there’s just more and more tuition.” Whether by coincidence or not, a significant percentage of this “tiny elite” on both sides of the partisan divide is Jewish and, as we approach the 2016 election season, look for them to continue to spend millions on ‘tuition’ against each other.


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