State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Wednesday filed a report on the campaign financing of the 19th Knesset elections with a mostly positive review, but criticized and fined the Bayit Yehudi, Hatnua and Balad parties for violating the rules.
Notable among the comptroller’s criticisms was his targeting of Likud Beytenu for a campaign event before the January 2013 general election on which the party spent NIS 1.2 million, including NIS 80,000 to singer Sarit Hadad for performing three songs, in which she compared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to a cannon.
The comptroller said it was wrong to use public money for such an event, but the Likud said it needed to open its campaign with a major event and the price it paid was reasonable.
The comptroller also said the Labor Party used star performers for its campaign events and that this was wrong.
The report noted deficiencies in election preparations and providing access to voting stations, and some election irregularities.
The comptroller found dozens of cases in the 2013 election where dead people voted.
Also, some 5,000 people voted even though they were not in the country and were not among the overseas diplomats, emissaries, disabled persons, hospitalized people and prisoners eligible for absentee voting.
The comptroller started by noting that the majority of political parties had observed the rules.
Shapira then slammed Bayit Yehudi for missing receipts on NIS 9.6m. of its expenses, limiting his ability to verify how much the party spent and if it was spent properly.
Still, the NIS 12.7m. that Bayit Yehudi spent on the election was at least within its legal limit (despite the party being about NIS 6.1m.
in debt). Shapira fined Bayit Yehudi NIS 380,000.
Bayit Yehudi said in response that it went from “border-line extinction to becoming a leading party with 12 mandates,” but that it would read the comptroller’s report and draw lessons accordingly.
Critics of Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett in the party said he used similar tactics in the primary, spending too much money despite knowing he would be fined, because he could afford it.
They accused him of shifting his primary campaign expenses to the party.
Shapira blasted Balad for missing receipts for NIS 2.5m. of its expenses, again limiting his ability to verify how much the party spent and if it was spent properly.
Still, the NIS 7.8m. that Balad spent on the election was within its legal limit (despite it being about NIS 2.5m. in debt). Shapira fined Balad NIS 160,000.
Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka said his party would take the report seriously and fix the mistakes that, he said, were technical matters only.
“We’ve always followed the rules and if there were exceptions we will work so they won’t be repeated,” he said.
Regarding Hatnua, there were no problems with providing receipts, but the party spent NIS 16.3m. on the election and the legal limit for it was NIS 13.3m.
Shapira said that Hatnua had argued that the limit was unfair since it was artificially low for a new party.
He rejected that explanation as misinterpreting the law, and fined the party NIS 140,000.
Hatnua said the comptroller’s decision to fine the party came as the result of it being defined as a member of the 18th Knesset rather than a new party. The party said it accepts the fine and will continue to act in accordance with the law.
The report noted that, as is typical in Israel, most parties finished the election heavily in the red, with Likud Beytenu out a leading NIS 2m., Shas out NIS 12m.
and only Kadima and Yesh Atid having significant leftover cash at about NIS 6.1m.
and NIS 10.4m., respectively.
Labor had leftover cash, but it was negligible at around NIS 263,000.
The report criticized a number of parties that did not make it into the Knesset for campaign finance violations.
On other fronts, Shapira criticized access to voting booths for people living in parts of the periphery and for disabled persons.
The report was critical of access to voting in hospitals and prisons, and noted irregularities.
“Proper and pure management of the elections is essential to ensure the actualization of the will of the voters,” the comptroller said.
Shapira said he hoped “fixing the deficiencies raised” in the report would “strengthen the public’s faith in government agencies” as well as in “Israeli democracy.”Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.