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As the parties gear up for primaries, they have to contend with the grim reality. Not the recession seizing much of the developed world: the fact that they're broke and laden with debt, and that donors seem few and far between.

They'll have to spend less than the law allows, probably around NIS 250 million altogether, because they can't afford to spend more. The law would allow them to spend about NIS 340 million.

As for donations, the law lets the parties tap each household for up to NIS 1,700, and they can't touch corporate money. As layoffs spread and consumer confidence wanes, the chance of households ponying up 1,700 shekels - or even 1,700 agorot - is growing dimmer.

The Knesset allocates NIS 1.2 million per Knesset member to finance party primaries, but the amount is the average of the number of seats the party had in the outgoing and incoming Knesset. In other words, it's calculated after the election, and when cutting checks, parties have to estimate how many seats they're likely to get.

Kadima's elections budget is NIS 51.3 million, but party sources estimate that its spending will max out at NIS 30 million to NIS 40 million, because of its deficit following the municipal elections. Likud is looking at spending NIS 28 million. It predicts more seats - but owes NIS 35 million. Labor will spend at most NIS 25 million, less than its ceiling, because it owes NIS 120 million. Shas is earmarking NIS 20 million for the election, of which NIS 6 million will be borrowed from banks.