All Those in Favor / The Peres Loophole

In the future, anyone running in their party's Knesset primaries may raise up to NIS 400,000 in campaign funds. Anyone running for party leadership may raise up to NIS 2 million.

From now on, no more tricks will be tolerated, such as receiving the money before the election campaign begins. Those who begin raising money earlier will be allowed to make up the difference, and no more. These rules will apply not only to incumbent Knesset members but to all registered party members.

These rules were established in emergency legislation (a temporary law) approved on the last day of the Knesset's summer session last Wednesday.

At present, the primaries are regulated by emergency legislation. The existing emergency legislation is set to expire during the summer recess, and it was feared that if Kadima, for example, calls early elections there would be no law with which to monitor them. The emergency legislation, which passed with impressive speed in the last two weeks of the Knesset's summer session, was supposed to solve this problem, but at the same time it opened what could be called the "Peres loophole."

Peres' last year as a politician was overshadowed by the affair in which he received $320,000 for his campaign from three foreign businessmen, some of whom owned businesses in Israel. And herein lies the paradox: the Public Service Law forbids Knesset members from receiving gifts, but this was money for the primaries, and not a gift. The Political Parties Financing Law forbids Knesset members from receiving such large gifts, but only during the primaries; Peres, however, received the donation in the two weeks prior to the campaign.

The state comptroller said Peres' acceptance of the contribution was improper, but he also said that since the money had been contributed during the primaries, it was not under his authority.

The comptroller and attorney general drew attention to the legislative loophole which the Knesset must amend, and both said the Knesset Ethics Committee should debate Peres' case.

The Ethics Committee used logic very similar to Peres' in dealing with this matter. It refrained from discussing the complaints during the presidential campaign because it did not want to affect the outcome. (Peres' rivals, in contrast, thought it was an excellent reason to bring them up.) And once Peres was elected the committee decided not to deal with the complaints due to the president's immunity.

The committee said, however, that "raising unlimited contributions from private people, certainly the closer the election date draws, should be ethically denounced."

The committee also made it clear that at least some of its members had reservations regarding Peres' act. How convenient.

Today everyone prefers not to talk about Peres and the proposal in the same breath. He is, after all, His Excellency the President. Since the new rules were made in emergency legislation, the loophole has been closed for only a year. This has its advantages, too. This year could be seen as a trial period. It would also provide time to check whether the sums cited are perhaps not too low.