paz pines 88.
(photo credit: )
Hundreds of thousands of shekels were spent by Knesset members in "establishing contact with the public," according to a report released Wednesday by the Knesset.
The Labor Party had the highest spenders, with Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh topping the charts at NIS 81,364.MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) and MK Wasal Taha (Balad) a close second and third at NIS 73,650 and NIS 73,264, respectively.
The lowest spender was Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, with a grand total of zero shekels. The minister, who has championed a policy of conservation since he took office, apparently took his own policy to heart, and did not use a single shekel of his budget to communicate with the public.
MKs are each provided NIS 68,000 to "establish relations with the public." They can also use surplus funds that were not spent in previous years in office.
These expenditures have often been criticized as "superfluous" by outgoing Knesset speakers, since in the past, the budget has been used to purchase equipment such as satellite navigation tools, cameras, palm pilots, and in 2005 an espresso machine for MK David Levy (Likud).
New legislation has banned MKs from using the budget to purchase digital cameras, projectors, or airfare to conferences. While the MKs can still use the funds to send personal letters and greeting cards, the stationery they purchase cannot have their party logo on the masthead.
In 2006, MKs still found creative ways to use their funds to connect with the public. Of the top spenders, most of Sneh's funds (NIS 35,416) went toward establishing his Knesset office; that figure is nearly twice what other MKs spent on their offices. An aide close to Sneh said that the deputy minister was not spending the money on particularly posh surroundings. Rather, he said, Sneh was acting as deputy defense minister long before he was named to the position, and much of the funds he spent were on running that position out of his Knesset office.
Paz-Pines's pricey budget was partially because he spent nearly NIS 19,000 on a new Internet site ahead of his run for the Labor leadership race. Taha spent NIS 21,436 on printing materials, NIS 2,499 on a hand-held computer, and NIS 1,297 on his office mini-bar.
Another expenditure that was listed on many MKs' budgets was language classes. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) spent the most on language classes - NIS 11,728. The second highest spender was MK Estherina Tartman (Israel Beiteinu), who was recently embroiled in a scandal over falsifying her college degree. Tartman spent NIS 8,574 not on her college tuition, but on language lessons.