The Knesset plenum .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With self-proclaimed billionaire Donald Trump self-funding his run for Republican candidate for president of the United States and Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, the second-richest politician in Israel with an estimated wealth of NIS 220 million, footing the bill for his own Labor primary candidacy, Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) called a meeting Tuesday to discuss a pertinent matter: Whether or not the use by wealthy individuals of their own money for their political campaigns should be limited.
At the end of the meeting, Kisch said politicians first should be required to report how much of their personal funds are used for politics, before the Knesset considers moving toward limiting such funding, and that he plans to propose a transparency bill.
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon described the current situation, such that MKs cannot raise funds or use donations for their regular political activities between elections because they are supposed to use the Knesset’s budget. However, the law does not refer to lawmakers using their own money.
In most cases, when the Knesset legal department was asked about personal funding, it was for small items, such as holding parlor meetings at the MK’s home; hiring a stylist or a driver; or renting an extra-parliamentary office that costs more than what the Knesset offers.
MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin said that if personal funding of political activities is to be limited, the committee also should discuss “the deceitful flow of resources in politics, starting with Israel HaYom and Arnaud Mimran,” a reference to the French billionaire accused of fraud who donated to Benjamin Netanyahu’s foundation when the prime minister was out of politics, and the pro-Netanyahu newspaper owned by supporter and Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
“If we’re talking about transparency, it has to go both ways,” she said.
Kisch, however, argued that the matters aren’t connected.
“I proposed the foreign agents bill [to label NGOs with significant foreign government funding as foreign agents] without spending a shekel of my own money,” he recounted. “At the same time, the NGO Im Tirtzu decided we have the same interests. I don’t have any control over a non-profit… They started a campaign that I was not involved in and even expressed reservations about, which supported my bill. How could that be considered a campaign that I funded?” MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), meanwhile, suggested that money is not the only advantage some MKs may have, pointing out that he is a former IDF general and Kisch a former fighter pilot, and that there are lawmakers who used to be journalists.
“It doesn’t make sense to say that only money can’t be used. At the same time, I think it should be limited and transparency must be required. It will be complicated, and I’m not sure it’s possible,” Stern stated.
MK Abdullah Abu Marouf (Joint List) called to totally outlaw the use of personal funds for politics.
Kisch closed the meeting by saying: “MKs’ salaries and their use of the Knesset budget is transparent to the public.
The time has come for their personal expense accounts to be transparent, as well, when it comes to political expenses.
“It cannot be that the makeup of our legislature is determined by wealth,” he added. “If there are unusual political expenses, the public should know.”