Republican Rep. Mark Kirk enters the Illinois Senate race as the member of the House who has consistently reaped the biggest contribution totals from pro-Israel PACs, making a name for himself through five terms in Congress as a hardline leader on legislation relating to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Kirk, who is considered a moderate Republican on most issues, sailed to an easy victory in the GOP primary this week and goes into the general election race as a strong contender for Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
There are plenty of members of Congress who subscribe to the same hawkish pro-Israel positions as Kirk. But the money totals (and his legislative record) show that Kirk is a particular favorite of the pro-Israel community.
In 2008, for example, Kirk got $414,000 from pro-Israel PACs, more than double the haul of the next biggest recipient in the House, and behind only Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton overall, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
With $108,000 in pro-Israel PAC donations in the current cycle, Kirk is second overall (to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and easily the biggest recipient in the House. He was the second biggest recipient of pro-Israel dollars in 2006. And his career total is $1,025,000, seventh overall of any member of Congress, and behind only prominent senators like Joe Lieberman.
With polls showing Kirk in a strong position in his Senate race, activists and liberal Mideast policy groups are concerned that he could become AIPAC’s point man in the Senate. (It’s worth noting that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a lobbying organization and does not donate to campaigns.)
Kirk’s campaign Web site calls the congressman a “pro-Israel champion,” listing accomplishments against Iran and Hamas. His Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, also touts “unwavering” support for Israel, though his site also endorses a two-state solution, which Kirk’s does not.
In the House, Kirk has been a driving force behind a host of legislative efforts to sanction Iran (he’s the founder of of the Iran Working Group), increase U.S. military support of Israel (including the integration of Israel into the American ballistic missile defense system), and cut any U.S. support for Palestinians (he wants to slash funding for the UN agency that is charged with aiding refugees).
He was also one of the leaders of the campaign against Chas Freeman, an Obama pick for the National Intelligence Council whose nomination was killed after a campaign by the pro-Israel community.
Kirk caused a mini controversy when, during the invasion of Gaza last year, he said: “To misquote Shakespeare, something is rotten in Gaza and now it’s time to take out the trash.”