'State funding of Israeli elections is highest in Western world'

Parties that don't pass the threshold but got more than 1% of the vote still receive funding * no one is scared of going to elections, since they know they won't have any problem financing it

CAMPAIGN POSTERS for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, New Hope Leader Gideon Sa’ar and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman are dotting the country as the March 23 election nears. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90/MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
CAMPAIGN POSTERS for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, New Hope Leader Gideon Sa’ar and Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman are dotting the country as the March 23 election nears.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90/MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Israel’s state funding of election campaigns is the highest in the Western world, while the amount that private individuals are allowed to donate to their favorite parties is the lowest.
However, even as Israel prepares to go to its fourth election in two years on Tuesday, campaign financing structures are not going to change anytime soon, said Dr. Assaf Shapira, director of the Political Reform Program at the Israel Democracy Institute.
During most elections in the past decade, government expenditures for political party campaigning have totaled between NIS 180 million and NIS 190m., Shapira said.
After the political parties had exhausted their resources in the first two elections of 2019, MKs granted themselves a onetime budgetary increase of 30% for the March 2020 election, giving them NIS 240m. to use, he noted.
According to data cited by Shapira for the years 2010-2014, state funding comprised 81% of all Israeli election financing, the highest level in the world along with Hungary. In the 2015 election campaign, state funding accounted for as much as 97% of the total. The remainder comes from donations, membership fees, and occasionally from selling real estate assets.
Shapira described how each party’s share of the budget is calculated, based on the allocation of individual financial units worth about NIS 1.4m. apiece. A new party that wins seats in Knesset for the first time would be assigned the number of financial units per the number of seats it received, plus one more financial unit, such that a party with 10 seats would receive 11 units of NIS 1.4m. For parties that are not new, the state would take the average of its seats in the previous Knesset and in the new Knesset, and add one more financial unit.
If a party did not pass the election threshold but received more than 1% of the vote, it could receive one financial unit, but no money is given to parties garnering less than 1% of popular support, Shapira explained.
However, Shapira noted, this amount is almost never enough to cover the parties’ campaign costs, and most will go into debt in their efforts to outspend each other. To pay that off, they dip into a second source of government funding they receive, earmarked for ongoing party activities. That sum, which averages around NIS 83,000 per MK per month, is intended for events and general expenses, but there is no law preventing it from being used to cover campaign debts, Shapira said.
Ideally, Shapira said, the parties would use political donations to cover their debts, but they are limited in how much they can receive. The law allows each party to raise only up to NIS 1,000 per donor household per year, or NIS 2,300 in an election year. That’s the lowest amount in the world, and makes fundraising extremely difficult.
“We don’t want to be like the United States, where rich people have great power to influence politicians, but this is very extreme,” said Shapira.
Can this situation change? “Everyone in the political parties is very happy with this situation, receiving government money without having to go out and raise funds,” Shapira said. “It means no one is scared of going to an election, since they know they won’t have any problem financing it.”