Former Likud MK Uzi Landau was forced to return a sizable campaign contribution from American millionaire Irving Moskowitz during his run for Likud leader due to ambiguities in campaign fundraising laws, Landau's associates revealed on Tuesday.
Landau, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Likud MK Silvan Shalom were the only three prime ministerial candidates who were not named in State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss's report on illegal campaign fundraising in internal party races that was published on Monday. All the other leadership candidates in Likud and Labor were found to have fundraised in an illegal, or at least problematic, manner, most notably Likud Party Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, who had to return NIS 83,000 in illegal donations.
But it was revealed on Tuesday that Landau, Mofaz and Shalom also raised funds illegally. They were not named in the report because Lindenstrauss gave them the opportunity to erase their names from the report by paying back the illegal contributions before it was published.
Lawmakers complained on Tuesday that Lindenstrauss set a bad precedent that would allow candidates to raise huge sums illegally without being held accountable.
Landau blamed Lindenstrauss and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz for not clarifying the laws in advance of the elections. He said he had to return $300,000 to donors, mostly in the United States, which could have helped his campaign.
"The system didn't help those who wanted to play the game according to the rules," Landau said. "I had enough from what I collected to pay everything back, thank God. I made the utmost effort to pay back what the law considered illegal, even though Mazuz was late in clarifying his opinion on the law."
Landau said that when he had started fundraising, he informed Lindenstrauss that he was forming a foundation and asked him for guidance. He said he was told that the Likud's legal adviser at the time, Eitan Haberman, should guide him on how to fundraise within the law. Haberman ruled that because the "election period" had not begun, there was no limit at the time.
Due to Haberman's ruling, Landau raised the $300,000, but Mazuz ruled later that the "election period" had begun before Landau raised the money, making the fundraising illegal. Landau said his Likud leadership campaign suffered because he had to return money that he needed.
Channel 2 reported that due to the same problems in interpreting the laws, one candidate had to sell his house to return money he unwittingly raised illegally.
Shalom, who intends to run for Likud leader again, and Labor leadership candidates Ami Ayalon and Danny Yatom intend to submit a bill together that would clarify the laws and eliminate future confusion.
Shalom also convened a group of MKs from various parties on Tuesday to discuss electoral reform. Shalom said the steps he favored included raising the minimum voter threshold, limiting no-confidence motions, allowing a prime minister to appoint ministers without Knesset approval and making ministers accountable to Knesset committees.
But National Union MK Aryeh Eldad, who attended the meeting, said he did not believe that such cosmetic changes were the answer.
"We are trying to give medicine to the wrong ailment," Eldad said. "The disease is a lack of leadership. Our problems in the Lebanon war were not due to our weak system but due to our weak leaders."