Knesset bans campaign contributions for primaries

Until now, parties received taxpayer funds for national elections.

Former American Friends of Likud president Dr. Julio Messer with coalition chairman David Amsalem (photo credit: COURTESY MESSER)
Former American Friends of Likud president Dr. Julio Messer with coalition chairman David Amsalem
(photo credit: COURTESY MESSER)
The Knesset voted 62 to 52 late on Monday night to pass into law the Primaries Law, which facilitates state funding for party primaries and bans candidates from receiving contributions or taking out loans.
The law, sponsored by coalition chairman David Amsalem (Likud), allows funding for primary candidates if three conditions are met: The party has at least 5,000 members, its party list is mostly democratically elected, and the primaries take place in the six-month period before a Knesset election.
The law applies to primaries in Likud, the Zionist Union, and Bayit Yehudi. Incumbent candidates will receive funding for all their campaign expenses and new candidates will receive a loan from the state that they would not have to return if they enter the Knesset.
Until now, parties received taxpayer funds for national elections. But candidates funded their races in party primaries on their own, taking donations from contributors locally and around the world.
Amsalem said it was a good law that would separate politicians from tycoons and prevent them from making mistakes. He said some 45,000 people contributed to primary campaigns in the Likud, and he was glad that would stop.
“The only place a Knesset member should see money is in his paycheck from the Knesset,” Amsalem told the Knesset plenum during the deliberations.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid responded by telling Amsalem from the rostrum, in the plenum, that he was glad to hear from him that the system that elected him was corrupt and it was unfortunate the result of that corrupt system was Amsalem entering the Knesset.
Zionist Union MK Miki Rosenthal said he would refuse to take taxpayer funds for his campaign, even if the law now provided him as much as NIS 300,000.
Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon sent a letter to MKs on Tuesday saying that if they have already received donations for their next campaign, they must return them within four months. He wrote that the law applies only to races for Knesset and not for the chairmanship of a party.
The law will also end an aspect of the relationship between wealthy Diaspora Jews and Israeli politicians.
Most candidates raised money from donors abroad, and many Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made a point of raising money only overseas, in order to prevent conflicts of interest with Israelis.
Many Likud candidates met potential donors through American Friends of Likud (AFL), a not-forprofit education organization that has developed unparalleled relationships with Likud ministers and MKs. When Likud politicians visited the US, they often made a point of addressing members of AFL, whose website boasts that its President’s Club members meet in private, more intimate settings with Israeli ministers and MKs. The AFL also organizes VIP trips to Israel for its donors.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin stated on Tuesday that his dialogue with AFL members would continue despite the end of campaign contributions. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and MKs Yoav Kisch and Avraham Neguise also said their doors would remain open.
Former AFL president Julio Messer stressed that AFL as an organization never contributed to any political candidate. He said the Primaries Law would in no way diminish AFL’s staunch support for the ideology of the Likud.
“As an Israeli, which I’m not, I would see the bill as an infringement on my freedom of expression,” Messer told The Jerusalem Post. “I should be allowed to support any candidate of my choice, financially or otherwise.
As an American Jew, I believe it is a decision to be made by the Israelis, through their democratically-elected representatives. The American Jews that have developed a relationship of mutual respect with Israeli politicians, including many of our members, will continue to have their suggestions heard and considered irrespective of the discontinuation of personal financial contributions that a few have made in the past.”