Knesset to revise 'Gaydamak Law' against philanthropists who become politicians

Arkadi Gaydamak on Tuesday turned into the star of a show initially aimed at severely punishing him if he ran for the next Knesset election, as he plans to do. The Knesset Law Committee convened on Tuesday to discuss a bill filed by MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) that has come to be known as the "Gaydamak Law" because it is clearly aimed at the Russian-born billionaire. According to the bill, if a candidate for the Knesset has donated at least NIS 1 million during each of the four years before an election, the money would be regarded as a contribution to the candidate's party and therefore an illegal campaign contribution since it exceeds the limit set by the Election Funding Law. Cohen explained that his bill was aimed at preventing wealthy people from bribing the electorate with gifts and donations in order to gain political power. He added that it was unfair that parties running for the first time were not restricted as far as campaign contributions were concerned since they were not eligible for state funding. "I wanted to create a situation where charity would not be exploited to buy elections," said Cohen. "I want to distinguish between true philanthropists and those that use charity to advance themselves." Not mincing words, Gaydamak told reporters after the meeting that those who opposed his philanthropy were "angry, jealous and stupid." Cohen received no support in the committee either. Law Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), Michael Eitan (Likud) and Moshe Sharoni told Cohen the Knesset could not pass a law that turned philanthropists into criminals. The committee decided to meet privately with Cohen in order to work out legislation that would not discourage philanthropy, but address Cohen's concerns. Gaydamak did not speak during the meeting, but distributed a letter in which he charged that Cohen's bill "is absurd and completely anti-democratic since every citizen has civil rights which include the right to be elected to public office. Ran Cohen, on the other hand, is proposing that citizens who offer help should be prohibited from being elected." After the meeting, an ebullient Gaydamak preened in front of the television cameras, clearly enjoying himself. "All the political parties are managed by public relations experts," he said. "Their only goal is to elect as many people as possible. Our aim is be in a position to help people in need and to protect the security of the country. Charity is part of Jewish tradition. When I was young, I received Hanukka and Purim gelt (money). Now, I want to distribute Hanukka and Purim gelt to the needy." Gaydamak also boasted that in a short time, he and his party had managed to gain the same exposure as parties that had been in existence for up to 40 years. "No one is interested in Meretz or the Likud any more," he said. "If they switched platforms, no one would know or care. But we are the party of the people."