by Eli Clifton
As many readers of this blog may know, the Sunday New York Times published a front-page, must-read article (“GOP’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift”) about the ever-tightening relationship between billionaire donors, like Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer associated with the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), and key Republican politicians like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). This, of course, is something LobeLog has been highlighting for quite some time (see, for example, here and here) and it is gratifying that the Times now appears to be paying attention to the issue, too.
The Times focused primarily on Cotton. It mentioned Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who has co-sponsored virtually every piece of sanctions legislation that’s been introduced in the Senate for the past four or five years, only in passing, noting that he was a “moderate from Illinois [who was] among the Republicans who offered budget amendments related to Israel last month.”
But Kirk, whose pro-Netanyahu activities and support from AIPAC-aligned political action committees is also something to which Lobelog has repeatedly drawn attention (just type his name into the Search function at the bottom right of this site), deserves more scrutiny from the Times and other mainstream media as well.
Kirk, who has never been “moderate” when it comes to Israel, has received major funding from both the biggest AIPAC-aligned PAC—NORPAC—and RJC director Singer.
According to Center for Responsive Politics data, from 2009 to 2014 Kirk received $111,585 from NorPAC and $105,950 from employees of Elliott Management, the hedge fund founded by hawkish GOP billionaire Paul Singer. Taken together, contributions by NORPAC and Elliott Management have been the single-largest source of campaign contributions to Kirk during his career as a senator.
Just how “immoderate” Kirk has acted with respect to Israel, and especially the negotiations with Iran, is illustrated by his rather intemperate remarks against U.S. diplomats who have been involved in the talks.
“Neville Chamberlain got a lot of more out of Hitler than [Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs] Wendy Sherman got out of Iran,” he said last week, just minutes after the announcement that a deal had in fact been reached. Kirk predicted that any further sanctions relief on Iran “dooms the Middle East to yet another war” and, in a comment his office clarified to Politico as referring to an Iranian nuclear test, quipped that “we all know [the deal] is going to end with a mushroom cloud somewhere near Tehran.”
It wasn’t the first time Kirk has shown outright contempt for the efforts of U.S. diplomats to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. In November 2013, Ali Gharib and I audited a private phone call between Kirk and and his donors/supporters. The senator attacked U.S. diplomats as “desperately want(ing) a New York Times article saying how great they are.”
“If I was going to run a Democratic primary I would definitely hire our current negotiating team,” Kirk said. “And that would be Kerry and Wendy [Sherman], and the president’s sole qualification for getting on this team is whether you can be a reliable partisan or not.”
In addition to Kirk and Cotton, Singer has invested heavily in organizations, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, as well as the RJC that have led the charge against the White House’s efforts to reach a diplomatic agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.
As I’ve written about in the past, Singer has also championed same-sex marriage, positioning himself as a moderate within the GOP despite his hawkishness on Iran. Although not directly addressing his advocacy on Iran-policy, The Washington Post profiled Singer’s approach to campaign contributions and highlighted his ties to Kirk in May 2013. Singer was named as one of the “behind the scenes” donors “influencing the debate more quietly.”
“He sees donors and politicians, he said, as ‘complementary forces,’ and is signaling to elected officials they will have backup if they decide to support same-sex marriage,” the Post reported, summarizing Singer’s responses in an email exchange with the newspaper.
Singer hasn’t spoken publicly about his specific views on the Iran deal, but the footprint of his philanthropy and campaign contributions, not to mention the behavior of politicians like Cotton and Kirk who have benefited from his largesse, suggests that he’s following a similar strategy in funding efforts to sabotage the White House’s Iran diplomacy.