State Comptroller Joseph Shapira singled out three politicians with close ties to the US Wednesday for raising too much funds on their primary campaigns: Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon and Likud Beytenu MK Moshe Feiglin.
Shapira expressed disapproval of politicians who raise money for their primary campaigns abroad, saying that, in his opinion, it should be illegal.
Donations from abroad consisted of a quarter of the total contributions candidates received in the six parties that held primaries: Likud, Bayit Yehudi, HaTikva, Kadima, Meretz and Labor.
"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," Shapira wrote.
Along those lines, Danon missed votes on the budget in late July, despite explicit demands from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beytenu) that he return to Israel, because he was speaking at a fundraiser for Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Los Angeles.
The Vice President of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors is Steven Goldberg, one of Danon's top donors. The Los Angeles lawyer gave two contributions of over NIS 9,000 to the Deputy Defense Minister's campaign and has written op-eds and made videos paying tribute to the views of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was banned from the Knesset in the 1988 for racism.
A comptroller's report on the primary race in the Bayit Yehudi said Bennett was fined NIS 65,000 for deviations "of unusual severity" in the amount of funds he was allowed to raise on the campaign.
The report also pointed out that it did not include the amount Bennett spent on a private investigator hired to gain information on his opponents.
Bennett lived in the US for several years as CEO of an anti-fraud software company, and became a multi-millionaire when it was bought by RSA Security; he funded about 58 percent of the NIS 1,199,060.52 for his primary campaign himself, but the money is still counted as fundraising.
Other donations to his campaign include small ones from well-known US Jewish philanthropists George and Pamela Rohr, and Roger Hertog. Bennett received major contributions of around NIS 40,000 each from New Jersey Devils hockey team owner Joshua Harris, Arthur Dantchik, founder of a US investment bank who donates mainly to Republican candidates, a Peter Goldberg of London and Peter Herenstein, an Orthodox hedge fund manager from Lawrence, NY.
Half of all the Bayit Yehudi's primary candidates were fined for raising too much funds. The amount they were allowed is based on the three seats the party had in the last Knesset, although they currently have 12 MKs.
The Bayit Yehudi 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 pointed out that the 2012 primary was the first in the Bayit Yehudi's history and the candidates taking part in it had never run in a primary before.
"At the same time, due to the large amount of fines given to half of the candidates, the party leader will examine whether it is wise to hold a primary ahead of the next election," the Bayit Yehudi spokesman added. Earlier this year, party Secretary-General Nir Orbach said that in the future, the Bayit Yehudi central committee will most likely choose its Knesset list.
A source close to former MK Zevulun Orlev, Bennett's opponent in the Bayit Yehudi leadership race, 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."
Out of 98 candidates who ran in the Likud primary, 28 were fined.
Danon and Feiglin received the highest fines – NIS 20,000 and 18,000, respectively. Danon regularly makes appearances in the US media and he and Feiglin often raise funds from the US.
Danon raised NIS 509,921.97, most of which came from foreign donors with less-known names than some of those on Bennett's list who gave NIS 10,000 or less at a time.
The Deputy Defense Minister also received about 22 contributions from donors in Arkansas, ranging from NIS 191 to NIS 10,000.
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 stated.
Most of Feiglin's NIS 1,174,605.77 donations to two primary campaigns – Likud leadership and the party's list for the Knesset - came from Israel, but he did his fair share of fundraising in large Orthodox communities like Brooklyn, Queens, Monsey, NY, and the "Five Towns" in NY as well as Teaneck, NJ and the Baltimore, Maryland area.
Some of Feiglin's top contributors include Sonya Kornblum, a Russian-Jewish attorney from Brooklyn who gave about NIS 30,000, Phillip Slepian, a NJ stock broker who gave about NIS 20,000 and Solomon Margolis, a lawyer from Maryland who donated about NIS 20,000.
Feiglin's office said the Comptroller's fine is a result of his unique situation, in which Feiglin ran in two primaries in one year.
"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."
The Likud Beytenu MK's spokesman added that Feiglin has always been very careful in fundraising and paying for his campaigns, and will continue his "flawless and strict, law-abiding" record.
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