Comptroller: Political Parties Spent Excessively on Election Campaigns

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss yesterday released a report on political parties spending for the elections to the 18th Knesset, held a year ago. A number of parties were subject to harsh criticism in the report, in particular Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Lindenstrauss singled out two extravagantly financed Yisrael Beiteinu conferences held just before the Knesset elections.

The first was the party's campaign launch conference, which cost NIS 212,000. The second conference came at the end of the campaign and cost NIS 187,000.

Yisrael Beiteinu defended the unusually high costs as necessary in order to hold events befitting the special occasions.

"I view the parties' wasteful use of public funds provided by law to finance their election campaign with the utmost severity," Lindenstrauss wrote in the report. He added that "extremely unreasonable spending that could indicate a lack of control is a serious occurrence which can not be ignored."

The state comptroller also criticized some factions' habit of promising bonuses to campaign managers and media advisors - as was stated in the agreement reached between Yisrael Beiteinu and American adviser Arthur Finkelstein, for example.

Lindenstrauss revealed that, beyond his $150,000 base fee, Finkelstein was promised an additional, increasing bonus for every Knesset seat garnered in the elections, beyond the 12 seats stipulated in the agreement.

After all was said and done, Yisrael Beiteinu paid its high-profile adviser a bonus totaling at NIS 653,000.

The report also stated that Lieberman's party signed an agreement with a public relations consulting firm, according to which the advisers would be paid a base salary of $90,000, plus a $10,000 to $20,000 bonus for every additional seat beyond the 12 seats. The firm was eventually paid a bonus of NIS 336,000.

Lindenstrauss also mentioned the Balad party in his report, criticizing its purchase of gasoline and fuel vouchers for NIS 175,000.

"Calculations conducted by employees of the State Comptroller's Office," Lindenstrauss wrote, "find that 33,000 liters of 95 octane gas or 29,000 liters of diesel could have been bought with that sum of money - equivalent to 300,000 kilometers of traveling - an unreasonable amount considering the travel costs of an election campaign." The state comptroller added that Balad had not supplied a reasonable explanation for the amount.

"Election results do not change the level of services provided during the campaign," Lindenstrauss wrote, adding that parties "violated their duty to act with restraint in spending public funds." Parties must refrain from signing agreements that set payment based on election results, his report stated.

Lindenstrauss also noted that Yisrael Beiteinu MKs went abroad often during the election period; Lieberman and other party officials spent NIS 118,000 on such trips during the campaign. The party responded to the comptroller's criticism, saying the trips were necessary to "keep in contact with potential voters" and with Jewish organizations overseas.