Comptroller slams local political parties for violating campaign financing laws

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat fined NIS 406,087 for violating campaign finance laws.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira‏ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira‏
A report by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira took 823 out of 1,428 local independent political parties to task on Tuesday for violating campaign finance laws.
Among the accused was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who received a NIS 406,087 fine.
The report also gave the national Bayit Yehudi party high marks in its observance of campaign financing laws.
Most of the report focused specifically on local political parties, which are independent of the larger national parties. A separate future report will cover those local parties linked to national movements.
Shapira said it was disheartening that a significant majority of local parties had violated campaign funding laws.
He added that cumulative fines for the parties had reached NIS 4.5 million under a new, harsher fine policy meant to deter misconduct.
Specific examples of such misconduct included a party activist spending NIS 14,000 of public funds on building issues related to his residence, which supposedly had the additional benefit of enabling the party to use it as a political headquarters.
Another party used public funds for personal expenses such as baby food, candy for children, and a freezer.
While 487 parties used public funds to reimburse drivers for gas, the report decried the cumulative fuel expenses of NIS 4m. for thousands of kilometers driven as completely “unreasonable,” considering that the funds pertained to local elections.
Political parties in Ashkelon, Nahariya and Ramat Gan also received relatively large fines.
On the national level, the report gave high marks to Bayit Yehudi even though it had submitted its filings late, and low marks to the Green Party, including a NIS 20,000 fine.
In Jerusalem, the report noted, Barkat had won four city council seats in his October reelection campaign against challenger Moshe Lion, making him eligible for funding from the State Treasury. According to his party’s financial statements, Barkat’s revenue during the election period totaled over NIS 3.5m, of which roughly NIS 3m. came from the Treasury; the remaining NIS 500,000 or so came from contributions.
However, the report stated that a subsequent audit had determined that Barkat had spent nearly NIS 14m. on his campaign, accumulating a deficit of over NIS 10m. beyond what the Treasury had allotted. Shapira claimed that the deficit violated Article 16 of campaign finance laws as directed by the state comptroller, and he imposed a fine of NIS 406,087 – 13 percent of the total deficit.
In response to the allegations of wrongdoing, Barkat issued a statement Tuesday night claiming that the present campaign finance laws were archaic, distorted and unrealistic, resulting in inevitable deviations in accounting practices.
Moreover, the mayor said, the law, which requires candidates to predetermine funding needs, must be amended to reflect unknown variables that may significantly alter a campaign’s expenditures.
“This is an intolerable situation that requires knowledge of the future through a crystal ball and generates violations after the fact, which cannot be avoided,” he said.
Barkat said he would appeal e State Comptroller’s fine, as well as current legislation dictating finance regulation, to “correct these distortions in order to avoid a situation where a law-abiding body unwillingly becomes the auditee.”
Additionally he called for raising spending limits to reflect realistically the breadth of added expenses necessary to running a major mayoral campaign.