The March 2015 election ended with a big win for Likud, but the party’s election overspending is still leaving its officials wondering where all the money went. It turns out that 9 million shekels ($2.36 million) of the total election outlay of 45.5 million shekels went to pay salaries, which are being detailed here by Haaretz for the first time.
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The election took place on March 17 last year, but the decision to send Israel to the polls began with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November 2014. After he fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in early December, new elections were a fait accompli.
The tens of millions of shekels that large parties like Likud get from the state for the campaign lets them pay people large sums for short periods of very intense work. And nothing in election campaign laws prevents political leaders from hiring close associates.
Documents obtained by Haaretz show that the highest salary, 826,000 shekels, was paid to accountant Avi Yehudayoff, who was responsible for managing the campaign’s accounts.
He is followed by the party’s legal adviser, Avi Halevy, who got 767,000 shekels for writing legal opinions. Strategic adviser Aron Shaviv got 413,000 shekels; Shlomo Filber, the campaign staff manager (and now Communications Ministry director general) got 300,000 shekels for four months’ work, while campaign manager Nir Hefetz got 296,000 shekels for three months’ work. Yossi Druck, listed as “staff organizer,” got 230,000 shekels.
It should be noted that the Likud campaign managers are far from setting any salary records. Last year, Haaretz reported that Moshe Klughaft, campaign staff manager for Habayit Hayehudi, earned 1.2 million shekels.
Other staffers also did pretty well. Ofer Golan, who headed Likud’s response team, earned 106,000 shekels. Former Maariv editor Yoav Tzur, a senior PR adviser who only worked two months, earned 92,000 shekels. Eli Hazan, “head of the print journalism team,” earned 83,000 shekels.
Boaz Stembler, now a Netanyahu spokesman employed by the Prime Minister’s Office, worked as the campaign’s “economic spokesman” for two months and earned 59,000 shekels, as did Erez Tadmor, a founder of the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization, who was employed as a “content coordinator.”
The campaign’s internet team was given a lot of credit for the party’s success, but its members were at the bottom of the salary ladder. Yonatan Orich, who handles Netanyahu’s Twitter account, got 36,000 shekels for the campaign, while Topaz Luk, a friend of Netanyahu’s son Yair, who handles the prime minister’s Facebook page, got only 25,000 shekels.
New media director Dmitry Galintz earned 24,000 shekels and Omer Dostri, responsible for “online responses,” 16,000 shekels. Lior Harari, who runs a Facebook page devoted to Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, earned 15,000 shekels during the campaign as a media monitor.
Netanyahu’s personal attorney, David Shimron, got 104,000 shekels for his campaign work alongside legal adviser Halevy, while Ari Harow, who left Netanyahu’s bureau to work in “organization” for the campaign – and is now being questioned by police about donors’ contributions to Netanyahu – got 110,000 shekels.
The high salaries of the Likud election staff is a source of controversy in the party. The issue is being examined by party controller Shai Galili – who last year issued a report stating that the party had spent 45 million shekels, even though the Knesset Finance Committee had allocated it only 36 million shekels.
The party at first refused Galili’s request to see all the receipts and other relevant documents so he could review the expenses, on the grounds that the state comptroller was looking into the party’s spending. But a Likud tribunal on Monday ordered party officials to give Galili the information.
The Likud secretariat, headed by Transportation and Road Safety Minister Yisrael Katz, is also looking into the salary payments and ordered an audit by a private accounting firm. Last month, a party subcommittee received a two-page report, which found flaws in the ties between the election staff and suppliers and discovered that some money had been paid for nothing.
The report found the campaign’s field operations went 7.5 million shekels over budget and that all the equipment purchased for the campaign headquarters, like refrigerators and water dispensers, had disappeared.
Commenting on his campaign salary, Filber said, “My salary was for five months against invoices including VAT – in other words, less than the monthly salary of Likud’s CEO or its accountant – for intense work 24/7.”
Accountant Yehudayoff said he put 5,000 hours' work into the campaign. “We were five people working for four months, and afterward we continued to work to prepare material for the state comptroller. We had 20,000 checks and thousands of invoices. When I went into it I didn’t expect it to be so much work. In the end, I made a relatively low rate of 140 shekels an hour.”
Attorney Halevy’s office said that what he earned was reasonable given the large scope of the legal services he provided Likud, which included legal accompaniment for candidates during the primary campaign as well as intensive work during the election campaign itself.
Halevy and another lawyer “worked on average 12 hours a day and were at Likud’s disposal at any time, beyond customary work hours.”
Shimron’s office said that while it would not discuss confidential services provided to his clients, the public aspects of his service to the campaign included appearances in court and before the Central Elections Committee. “As is known, our office also dealt with Likud’s coalition negotiations,” the office said.
Neither Hefetz nor Shaviv offered a response.