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CAMPAIGN 2000

Lieberman Lures a Wave of New Political Money

Campaign: The vice presidential candidate's place on the national ticket has attracted a record number of donations from Jewish voters.

September 28, 2000|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Over the years, Marvin Lender has raised billions of dollars as the head of charity drives for Jewish philanthropies and educational institutions without ever using his contribution-gathering prowess for politicians. But that changed when Vice President Al Gore picked Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Jew, as his running mate on the Democratic ticket for the White House. Now the Connecticut-based bagel pioneer is energizing his formidable network to write large checks to the Democratic National Committee.

"I did wake up that morning when Joe was [named] and said, 'I'm not just going to sit on my hands and be happy for him,' " Lender recalled. "I'm an actions-results type of person. So I started to fund-raise."

Lender's efforts are part of a wave of new political donations from Jewish Americans who have been compelled to contribute since Lieberman became the first Jew named to a national ticket.

Jewish Americans long have been generous to the Democratic Party, but key fund-raisers and Jewish leaders across the country suggest that Lieberman's nomination has sent Jewish voters to their checkbooks in record numbers.

Jewish Donors Want to Support Lieberman

Contributions from Jewish voters are "providing an unexpected infusion of hard money into the campaign," said Melvin Levine, a lawyer and former congressman who raises money for the DNC in Southern California.

And because these limited, "hard money" donations will help fund the party's ad war against GOP nominee George W. Bush, they could make a big difference in the final weeks before election day.

DNC spokeswoman Jennifer Backus said the party does not track donations by religious or ethnic group, so there are no hard figures on how much new money has come from Jewish supporters of Lieberman. However, she confirmed that the DNC has received scores of telephone queries from Jewish Americans saying they had never donated to politics but now wanted to do so.

A broad spectrum of Jews--including many who had been apolitical and even some who normally vote Republican--say they are contributing to Gore's presidential campaign because of Lieberman's historic place on the ticket and their new respect for Gore for putting him there.

A number of Lieberman's supporters who are Jewish have volunteered to host fund-raising events, Backus said, and some of the events have targeted Jewish donors.

'Historic Time for Jewish People'

Lieberman himself has headlined a steady stream of recent DNC fund-raising events organized and attended predominantly by Jews. Long beards, yarmulkes and Yiddish jokes abound. On Tuesday, Lieberman raised $2 million at three events hosted by Jewish supporters and attended by many new Jewish donors. All told, Lieberman has raised $12 million at DNC events, while his counterpart, Dick Cheney, has raised $5.4 million at functions for the Republican Party, according to his spokeswoman.

"This is a historic time for Jewish people," said Rosalie Zalis, a registered Republican and former longtime aide to California Gov. Pete Wilson. Zalis shifted her support to the Democratic ticket after Lieberman was named, donating $1,000 to the DNC.

"For me to say that [Lieberman's Jewishness] had nothing to do with my thinking would be a bald-faced lie," she said. "It certainly energized anyone who is Jewish. But were he a Democrat of the liberal bent I would not support him. The Jewish factor made me look at the ticket again. It made me believe Gore had a sense of boldness and inclusion that I didn't know he had."

From Los Angeles to Miami and New York to Boston, Democratic fund-raisers who have raised money from Jewish Americans for years said they have been stunned by the number of new Democratic contributors Lieberman has brought out.

Levine thought he had mined all his contacts for campaign donations. But after Lieberman was named, his phone started ringing with "unsolicited" offers to donate and help raise money for the Democratic ticket. So he persuaded the DNC to schedule an Oct. 11 fund-raising luncheon in Los Angeles so eager donors could meet Lieberman, and he resumed dialing for dollars.

A few new Jewish donors called Levine to say they had already talked their friends into donating and wanted to know the system for sending in the checks.

"It's a level of enthusiasm that is extraordinary, and I don't recall seeing it for any other campaign," he said.

During parents' day at his children's North Hollywood school on Saturday, four people approached Levine--three of them Jewish--asking what they could to do help the Gore-Lieberman ticket. One mother, a television producer, said she would be responsible for filling a table--10 tickets at $1,000 each--for the October luncheon.

Levine said he had never had this experience in the eight years he has been a parent at Harvard-Westlake School.

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