Netanyahu Pushing to Restrict NGO Funding of Political Campaigns

The bill is called V15 after the NGO that waged an extensive electoral campaign against the prime minister, and will greatly restrict the ability of such groups to raise money.

A supporter holds an election billboard showing Israel's Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu with Hebrew writing that reads "Likud", in Jerusalem, Friday, Feb. 6, 2009.

Ten days before the Knesset goes into its spring recess, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set on significantly advancing a bill calling for restrictions on non-profit groups that conduct political campaigns. The bill will be presented by MK Yoav Kish (Likud) next Sunday before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, after which it will go for a preliminary vote at the Knesset plenary, where it is expected to pass. The next stages will continue when the Knesset reconvenes.

The bill is called V15 after the NGO that waged an extensive electoral campaign against Netanyahu last year. The bill proposes that such groups will be subject to the law regulating the financing of political parties, which will greatly restrict their ability to raise money.

Kish turned to all cabinet members on the committee in an attempt to convince them to support the bill. “The law was bypassed during the last elections, with donors transferring millions to non-party political groups,” he wrote. “This is a stain on our democracy. This law will ensure transparency and fairness and will benefit all parties.”

The prime minister has embraced this bill, presenting it to the heads of all parties. The bill includes a raft of restrictions, including a 1,000-shekel ($250) limit on any individual donation in non-election years, and a 2,300-shekel limit in election years. Donations will be published on organization websites 30 days ahead of a campaign and will be subject to the state comptroller’s oversight.

The law defines for the first time “groups that operate during elections,” including ones that conduct surveys or offer transportation to polling stations, or those that publish ads in the media.

In recent years different parties have privatized their campaigns in order to bypass spending limits. In explanatory notes accompanying the bill, its proponents write that they wish to avoid situations such as arise in the United States, where there are no limits on sums given by tycoons to candidates they support. They cite V15 and its recent campaign as the main motivation for proposing the new bill. “The group published negative messages about some candidates, mainly Netanyahu, without publicly supporting any other candidate,” they write.

“According to the current law, engaging in campaigning without any official party affiliation can still assist a particular party while avoiding financial restrictions. This activity thwarts the intent of the law and enables financial influence by foreign agents or by corporations, which is forbidden,” write the new bill’s proponents.