Bigspenders in the Knesset

Former MKs Sarah Marom-Shalev (Gil Pensioners Party) and Tzvia Greenfeld (Meretz), whose combined spending reached NIS 11.20, simply saved taxpayers’ dough.

With Knesset officials claiming that MKs were more spendthrift in 2009 than in previous years, the Knesset on Tuesday released its annual report on lawmakers’ spending for “keeping in touch with the public.”
Although the top spenders last year did, on average, pay out less than 2008’s, MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu) achieved the dubious first place in the new list by expending almost NIS 100,000 – nearly 50 percent over her allotted budget.
The data on expenditures by current and former MKs is posted on the Knesset’s Web site. The report released on Tuesday concerned expenses incurred by MKs from their budget for “connections with the public” during 2009. Each lawmaker is entitled to spend NIS 49,000 annually, with an additional NIS 19,000 to subsidize a second office outside of the Knesset, yielding a maximum of NIS 68,000 for each of the 120 MKs.
Although the Knesset Spokesman’s Office emphasized that “there cannot be any overspending from the approved budget” and that “the reason for expenses over NIS 49,000 is receipts from the end of 2008 submitted and included in the 2009 report,” Shemtov had exceeded her 2008 budget by NIS 1,843, in effect going into an overdraft of more than NIS 28,000 over two years.
Shemtov spent NIS 32,359 on “consulting” – a media adviser – and NIS 25,285 on secretarial services in 2009. In 2008 as well, she spent a significant proportion of her budget – approximately NIS 25,000 – on “consulting.”
Shemtov and MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima) are the only two MKs to appear on the list of top 10 spenders for two years in a row.
While Hermesh’s expenses in 2009 were among the highest, they fell within the acceptable range at NIS 60,160, as opposed to NIS 71,366 in 2008.
There was a marked difference in the two recent years overall, with 2008’s top 10 all exceeding the spending limits, averaging expenditures of NIS 76,884, compared to 2009’s average of NIS 66,607 among the top 10.
In contrast, a number of MKs managed to make it through the year while spending less than NIS 1,000 of their budget. Some, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor), Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin (Likud) and former prime minister Ehud Olmert (Kadima) did not spend a single shekel. However, they and fellow low spender  Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) received subsidies from their ministries.
But other low spenders, including former MKs Sarah Marom-Shalev (GilPensioners Party) and Tzvia Greenfeld (Meretz), whose combined spendingreached NIS 11.20, simply saved taxpayers’ dough.
And a word of advice to MKs: Spending large sums to improve one’s“connection with the public” does not seem to be the best strategy toensure reelection. Of the 10 top spenders in 2008, four – including2008 No. 1 Eli Gabai (National Religious Party), who spent more thanNIS 90,000 – no longer enjoy the added perk of having an office in theKnesset.