Raising More Money, J Street Discloses Big Donors

The liberal, pro-peace Israel lobbying group J Street doesn't typically disclose all of its funding, but it's been raising more of it each year since its inception in 2007.

[See UPDATEs below and this story here.]

According to estimates provided to The Atlantic by Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group has brought in a total of $11.2 million since its inception: $1.2 million in 2008, $3.3 million in 2009, and $5 million so far in 2010 to its nonprofits, plus $576,000 in political contributions in the 2008 election cycle and $1.1 million since then. The group expects to grow its budget to $7 million in 2011.

As with many issue organizations of its ilk, much of J Street's funding is concealed: the J Street umbrella entails a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, the funding for which is not publicly disclosed by the IRS, in addition to a 501(c)3 nonprofit, whose funding the IRS publicizes after processing yearly tax forms, and a PAC (political action committee), which reports its finances to the Federal Election Commission on a quarterly basis.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Ben-Ami discussed J Street's fundraising momentum and who the group's biggest donors are, including nonpublicized funding for the group's 501(c)4 nonprofit.

Since 2007, the largest J Street donors have been:

  • George Soros & family, who have given approximately $250,000 per year over the past three years
  • Bill Benter, a Pittsburgh-based technology entrepreneur who serves as CEO of Acusis, an outsourced medical transcription service, has been able to raise and donate at least $800,000 over J Street's first two years of existence, including from associates in Hong Kong*
  • The Skoll Global Threats Fund, a group whose mission is "to confront global threats imperiling humanity by seeking solutions, strengthening alliances, and spurring the actions needed to safeguard the future," gave at least $200,000 to J Street's 501(c)3 arm
  • The Nathan Cummings Foundation, a Jewish organization that focuses on "democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community," has given a "significant six-figure amount" according to Ben-Ami
  • Israeli American businessman Davidi Gilo and Deborah Sagner, (of the Democracy Alliance board, also connected to New Jersey-based real estate development firm Sagner Companies), who serve on J Street's advisory council, have given a couple hundred thousand dollars to J Street since its inception
J Street gets its money from a total donor base of about 10,000, Ben-Ami said.

The organization has gained momentum since its inception, both in fundraising and in public notoriety. Posing itself as a liberal counterweight to the often conservative Israel advocacy establishment in Washington, and as an alternative to AIPAC for Americans who care about Israel but are less staunch in opposing concessions to Palestinians, J Street's main accomplishment has perhaps been to sustain itself after advertising such a splashy role.

What does J Street do with all this money? It has expanded to 45 staff, opened up 35 local branches around the country, is developing its campus outreach program, and bring speakers in from abroad. It continues to lobby. Earlier this summer, it launched a TV ad praising Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak after his record on Israel was impugned by the conservative, recently formed Emergency Committee for Israel. J Street ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal this week. Its PAC, which raised $1.1 million this election cycle, is endorsing 61 candidates in the fall elections.

UPDATE: Eli Lake of The Washington Times, who obtained a J Street IRS document, reported today that $811,697 came from one donor in Hong Kong, Consolacion Esdicul, which contradicts Ben-Ami's account. I'll update this post when more light is shed on this discrepancy.

UPDATE II: J Street seemed to distort the source of this donation and its prior openness about donations from Soros. The $811,697 indeed came from Consolacion Esdicul, solicited by Benter. "Bill raised this money for J Street," a spokesman told me, noting that if Benter hadn't solicited it, it wouldn't have been donated. The group also had posted on its website, as of last night, that Soros was not a founder or J Street's primary funder (which is true) and that J Street would be happy to receive Soros's donations should he choose to give them (which seems to imply that he wasn't donating already--which he was). Moreover, J Street had acknowledged that it would welcome Soros's donations and saw no problem with him, but still implied that he wasn't giving money. Ben-Ami had, according to a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, acknowledged Soros's donations while speaking to a small group in Florida. That seems to be the only evidence of J Street's acknowledgement of this. [UPDATE III: A sometimes columnist for the Jerusalem Post wrote, in a comment posted below an op-ed Ben-Ami placed in the paper, that Ben-Ami had acknowledged Soros funding to a small group in Florida.]

See more on this here.