Comptroller Makes Politicians Pay for Fundraising Abroad

Israel’s State Comptroller Yosef Shapira on the warpath against campaign fundraising abroad. (Flash 90)
Israel’s State Comptroller Yosef Shapira on the warpath against campaign fundraising abroad. (Flash 90)

State Comptroller Judge Joseph Shapira imposed fines Wednesday on several politicians for fundraising irregularities, including excessive amounts collected abroad, for primary campaigns in Israel.

In a report to the Knesset, Shapira noted the impropriety of fundraising outside Israel, writing that “Raising funds abroad means receiving support from external sources who often lack a connection to the state of Israel, but think that, because of their donations, can be involved in setting the public agenda in Israel.”

Donations from abroad accounted for a quarter of the total contributions to the six parties which held primary elections last year: Likud, Jewish Home, HaTikva, Kadima, Meretz and Labor.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) topped the list of offenders, singled out for deviations “of unusual severity” in the amounts of cash he raised in the U.S. and  for failing to disclose that he had hired a private investigator to check up on rivals. He was fined 65,000 shekels.

Half of the Jewish Home primary candidates were fined for fundrraising excesses. In response, the party said it “welcomes the State Comptroller’s thorough and professional report. The party chairman and MKs accepted the report, are studying it, and will fix their mistakes.”

A party spokesman pleaded inexperience, however, since the 2012 primary was the first in its history and the candidates had never run in a primary before. “At the same time, due to the large amount of fines…the party leader will examine whether it is wise to hold a primary ahead of the next election.”

In the Likud, 28 of the 98 candidates who ran in the primary were were fined.

Deputy Defense Minister Danon accepted his fine of NIS 20,000, the most of any Likud member, contritely. Danon said Wednesday that he “respectfully accepts the Comptroller’s criticism and values him, his work and his office. I will learn my lesson for the next time,” he said.

MK Moshe Feiglin was next on the Likud list, and will have to pay 18,000 shekels.

“MK Feiglin raises most of his funds in Israel and receives relatively small contributions from a large number of people,” his spokesman pointed out. “This shows his great grassroots support, of which we are very proud.”

Fines were also issued to Minister of Environment Amir Peretz (Movement), and MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz).

A source close to former MK Zevulun Orlev, Bennett’s opponent in the Jewish Home race, was unforgiving. saying that said the Comptroller’s report proves that good things happen to bad people in Israeli politics.

“As long as the law does not allow the Comptroller to oversee elections in real time, public figures will prefer to break the law and be elected rather than follow the law,” the source said. “Orlev was able to be a public servant for many years and keep to the letter of the law. MKs should work so there will be greater enforcement of campaign finance laws so that decent people can run in an equal way.”

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