iVoteIsrael, a nonprofit encouraging American citizens living in Israel to register for and vote in the US presidential elections, has strong ties to right-leaning US-Jewish billionaire Ronald Lauder.
iVoteIsrael officials insist the organization is entirely nonpartisan; yet have so far steadfastly refused to name its donors. But a report published Tuesday by the US-based Sunlight Foundation states that the nonprofit behind iVoteIsrael has the same New York address as the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and lists other findings suggesting strong links between the voter registration organization and right-wing groups.
On Wednesday, National Jewish Democratic Council head David Harris said the voter registration group was not as balanced as it says it is.
“Registering Americans anywhere to vote is a good thing; but like others, I do wish that iVoteIsrael videos and clips showed more of the nonpartisan balance they claim to model,” he told The Times of Israel in an email.
Considered a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, cosmetics heir Ron Lauder is a staunch supporter of Republican causes and right-wing groups in Israel. While he has occasionally donated to Democrats, the overwhelming majority of his campaign contributions go to Republican candidates.
iVoteIsrael is registered in the United States as a 501(c)4 nonprofit, a status that does not allow for tax-deductible donations but does give it more leeway to conduct political activities. By US law, it does not have to divulge donor rolls because of the tax bracket under which it is registered.
iVoteIsrael’s national campaign director, Elie Pieprz, declined to comment on the specifics of the report, citing the organization’s “commitment to our many supporters.”
“iVoteIsrael is very proud of the bipartisan nature of its campaign,” he told The Times of Israel in an email Wednesday. “iVoteIsrael has registered tens of thousands of Democrats and tens of thousands of Republicans in this election cycle — dwarfing any other voter registration drive that this country has ever seen.”
Back in June, The Times of Israel reported that several key people working for iVoteIsrael have or had strong ties with the Republican party or conservative Israeli groups. In several interviews conducted at the time, organizers and staffers resolutely refused to name the nonprofit’s backers. Pieprz said he believes most donors to the campaign usually give to more politically conservative causes, both in the United States and in Israel. But Aron Shaviv, iVoteIsrael’s campaign strategist, said donors are “diverse” and that their political leanings were “quite balanced.”
“The issue is not who’s behind it. Let’s just say they are Republicans and Democrats,” Shaviv said in June. “Some people feel passionate about it but for their personal reasons don’t want to be associated with something that’s so pro-Israel.”
When a reporter for the Sunlight Foundation, Nancy Watzman, looked into the corporate filings of iVoteIsrael’s parent organization, Americans for Jerusalem (which is also known as One Jerusalem), she established that it has the same Manhattan address as Lauder’s nonprofit — 727 Fifth Avenue, Suite 4200.
The Sunlight Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group seeking to “make government transparent and accountable,” according to its website.
In a video, John Bolton explicitly urges Americans in Israel to vote for Romney since the ‘Obama administration is most hostile to Israel since the state was founded’
Watzman also reports that the president of Americans for Jerusalem, Allen Roth, is a former political aide to Lauder and that Lauder has in the past contributed to one of the group’s campaigns protesting the possible division of Jerusalem. Roth also sits on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union.
Americans for Jerusalem is also connected to a conservative nonprofit called Secure America Now, Watzman writes. The group this week attacked the “Obama Administration’s continued support of the Muslim Brotherhood” and launched an anti-White House ad campaign in Ohio, a swing state crucial for the election’s outcome.
Official 2010 tax records for One Jerusalem show the organization has been donating funds to conservative and hawkish groups both in Israel and the US, such as $125,000 to Citizens United and $55,000 to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
So far, iVoteIsrael — which employs eight paid full-time staffers and at least one paid political strategist – has helped tens of thousands of Americans residing in Israel register for the US elections and cast their absentee ballots. Besides assisting US citizens with the required paperwork, the nonprofit is organizing debates between Republicans and Democrats in Israel.
iVoteIsrael tries to steer away from straightforward endorsements of either the incumbent president, Barack Obama, or his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But the way some campaign videos and ads are formulated has led some observers to suspect the group’s sympathies lie with the GOP.
“The American people have always stood with Israel. But the administration has at times been less than friendly… Will the next government be there for Israel in 2013? Americans in Israel have the power and the numbers to help elect a pro-Israel Congress and president who will have Israel’s back,” a narrator in an iVoteIsrael video says, hinting that Obama’s positions regarding West Bank settlements and the Iranian nuclear program are at odds with those of the current Israeli government.
The iVoteIsrael YouTube channel features a clip in which a hawkish former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, explicitly urges Americans living in Israel to vote for Romney, proclaiming the “Obama administration is the most hostile to Israel since the State of Israel was founded.”
“No similar message champions Obama or mentions plaudits given the president by Israeli officials or the Israel lobby AIPAC,” journalist Mairav Zonszein observed on the Open Zion blog.
In July, iVoteIsrael hosted former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (who served under George W. Bush) and Republican Jewish Coalition director Matt Brooks, who appeared at several events.
“Ari and Matt came as Republicans who support Romney, but iVoteIsrael remains a non-partisan organization who simply provided a platform for them to speak,” the organization’s blog stated in July. iVote Israel pledged to “provide a similar platform for a Democrat in the coming weeks,” but so far not one senior party official has come to Israel for iVoteIsrael events.