MKs break the bank to 'connect with the voter'

MKs have spent big to learn more about their voters, with Meretz's Zehava Gal-On topping the charts at nearly NIS 100,000, according to the Knesset report on 2007 legislative budgets for external relations. Gal-On spent NIS 97,829, with the vast majority on polls commissioned to learn more about voter confidence following the Second Lebanon War and the subsequent Winograd Report. This was more than double the NIS 43,196 that Gal-On spent in 2006. Gal-On defended her spending Thursday, saying that 2007 was the first year she had commissioned polls since she entered office nine years ago. Many of the other big spenders ranked around the NIS 80,000 mark, with David Tal (Kadima) spending NIS 81,760, and Moshe Sharoni (Gil) spending NIS 79,536. Both those MKs spent money on learning new languages. While Gal-On's spending was the highest the Knesset has seen in three years, it is not below the NIS 97,539 or NIS 94,322 spent by Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) and former Ehud Ratzabi (Shinui), respectively, in 2004. The cap for voter spending is NIS 48,000 shekels, with an additional allotment of NIS 20,000. MKS can also apply to take out as much as NIS 12,000 from the following year's budget. MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) was the lowest spender in 2007, using just NIS 11,000 to connect with voters. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has a separate office to deal with voter issues, spent none of his Knesset budget. The "voter spending budget" has often been criticized as "superfluous" by outgoing Knesset speakers, since in the past, the budget has been used to purchase equipment such as satellite navigation tools, cameras, personal digital assistants, and, in 2005, an espresso machine for then-MK David Levy (Likud). Legislation has banned MKs from using the budget to purchase cameras, projectors or airfare to conferences. MKs can use the funds to send personal letters and greeting cards, but the stationery they purchase cannot have their party logo on the masthead.