Richard Fishman, architect of AIPAC’s shift to political fundraising, dies at 62
The lobby group’s co-CEO first joined the organization in 1985
Richard Fishman, AIPAC’s co-CEO and the architect of its major recent policy shift toward political fundraising and away from grassroots advocacy, died on Tuesday following a yearslong battle with cancer. He was 62.
Born in 1961 in New Jersey, Fishman grew up in Columbus, Ohio. He spent most of his life in the Washington, D.C., area, where he moved after joining AIPAC in 1985 as its student coordinator. Over the years, he held numerous roles at the pro-Israel lobby.
“He was someone who early on recognized the importance of Israel to what it means to be a Jew in America today, and he never shied away from that and never shied away from Jewish identity,” said William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Most recently, Fishman spearheaded AIPAC’s decision to transition from its longtime grassroots model toward one rooted firmly in political fundraising. He oversaw the creation of AIPAC’s political action committee and an affiliated Super PAC.
“It is hard to radically change a business model you yourself helped build. He was the one who realized change was necessary if we were going to remain effective and impactful,” said Elliot Brandt, AIPAC managing director. “He’s the one who in many ways recognized the threat, diagnosed the problem, and then helped both conceptualize the plan and, most of all, make sure it got implemented.”
Until the 2022 midterm election cycle, AIPAC had cultivated networks of political donors who had strong relationships with lawmakers but it had never directly fundraised for candidates. Fishman realized that should change.
“We had the most extraordinary business model for an America that increasingly didn’t exist with rampant turnover and hyperpartisanship and the rise of real detractors. The old business model was good, but insufficient,” Brandt said.
The change was welcomed by some of AIPAC’s most loyal backers but drew scrutiny even by some supporters. The group’s winning record of electing pro-Israel lawmakers in the 2022 Democratic primaries was a clear sign of the new strategy’s success, even though AIPAC’s endorsement of more than 100 Republican members of Congress who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election earned it major controversy last year.
“He met people where they were,” said Brandt, who has worked at AIPAC since 1994. “He understood both the muscle memory and the objections, and he was able to bring people along. But more than anything else, he was relentless.”
Praise for FIshman came quickly from AIPAC’s allies in Congress.
“I first met Richard Fishman 30 years ago when we were on [AIPAC’s] National Young Leadership Cabinet together,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) told Jewish Insider. “Throughout his life, he has been an extraordinary leader and inspired spokesperson for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. I will forever be grateful for his friendship and always remember him as a mensch. May his memory be a blessing.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) wrote on X that she was “heartbroken to learn of the passing of an incredible advocate and friend.”
Fishman’s other roles at AIPAC included managing director, director of development, director of regional affairs and director of the organization’s Florida office. He is survived by his wife, Dana, and children Shelbie and Ethan.
In remarks at a 2013 AIPAC summit for college student leaders, Fishman shared his biggest piece of advice: “The most important thing that I can tell anybody is to choose a career that you love,” he said. “It’s a privilege to work at AIPAC.”