Lindenstrauss slams local vote misdeeds

Lindenstrauss slams loca

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss did not mince words when he blasted local candidate lists for their financial misdeeds during last November's local elections, in a special comptroller's report released Wednesday afternoon. Among the worst offenses detailed by Lindenstrauss was the over NIS 430,000 paid by Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani's party to Lahiani's wife for services rendered as "headquarters manager" during the campaign season. Elections were held in 163 local authorities, where hundreds of local factions - some affiliated with national parties - competed in mayoral and city or local council races. Of those, 191 factions never submitted financial reports to the State Comptroller's Office and of those that did, Lindenstrauss found that 267 factions did not follow all of the required campaign financing procedures. One common form of malfeasance that Lindenstrauss described was lists artificially inflating their expenses to receive the maximum government funding and without having to return the balance to the Treasury. The funds to the Bat Yam mayor's wife fit into that category. Lahiani, who has been the subject of a television probe for alleged corruption, has denied any wrongdoing. Lahiani was castigated by an earlier comptroller's report for promoting his mother to be in charge of the city's preschools without holding an open tender the post. The mayor's office responded Wednesday that the employment of Lahiani's wife as a campaign manager was "legal and was approved in advance by the state comptroller. The election results testify more than anything else as to her success in the position. "Mrs. Lahiani worked for around a year as a campaign manager and the faction 'Bat Yam with her Head Held High' will ask for Lindenstrauss to officially recognize the 'success bonuses' paid to her as he did in dozens of municipalities throughout the country." Lindenstrauss believes that that the Bat Yam case was the most egregious instance, but listed others. "I see this phenomenon in a negative light," complained the controller. "Whoever 'inflated' expenses is not acting innocently and is abusing the public funds that were placed with good faith into their hands. Most importantly, I see as particularly severe situations in which the 'inflated' funds arrived in the hands of the candidate himself or his cronies." Lindenstrauss handed over the entire report - as is his usual practice - to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, who will examine it and determine whether or any criminal investigations are in order. Yet another practice that Lindenstrauss blasted - and that accounted for over NIS 200,000 of Lahiani's paybacks - was "success bonuses" to contractors. In those instances, factions paid meaty bonuses to contractors if they won election. Lindenstrauss emphasized that while this was a waste of public funds, it was particularly harmful because "making compensation dependant on the election results could motivate positive activities, but could also open the door to negative phenomena." Local party lists spent a total of NIS 153,881,280 on the election campaigns. Of the funds used in the election season, over NIS 90.9 million was state funds and slightly over 17.3m. was from donations. Fifteen local factions exceeded permissible spending by amounts ranging from 2,474 to 289,623, and in some cases, particularly involving campaign advertising, Lindenstrauss said that the documentation was so lacking that it was entirely impossible to trace the funds. A number of factions also paid for non-permissible expenses, including "thank-you rallies" for their employees and volunteers. Lindenstrauss cited one faction that spent NIS 17,550 for two rallies during the campaign season, and NIS 36,382 for one "thank-you rally" after the elections. "Election funds were not meant for this purpose," he said. Other parties listed expenses that Lindenstrauss termed "extremely improbable, that have no connection to the elections, listing, for example, a NIS 12,500 bill for building materials. Other expenses included "food and dry goods, more characteristic of a household and not an elections headquarters," he said. Lindenstrauss also complained about outlays that, while they could be connected to an election campaign, were excessive. He emphasized that equipment such as photocopiers, air-conditioners and computers should have been rented, rather than purchased. "There were instances in which these type of expenses were incurred at a late stage of the campaign, when use of the equipment was for very short periods. It is not known what was done with this equipment at the end of the elections period and there is a fear that it fell into private hands at the taxpayers expense," he wrote. Lindenstrauss said that he would only partially recognize expenses of this type, and instructed legislators to tighten the loophole and "determine clear rules to reduce expenses and to make sure that they fit norms of savings and efficiency." Thirty-seven factions finished the election season with debts of over NIS 100,000, with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's "Jerusalem Will Succeed" list incurring a debt of NIS 4,246,133.