Business Figures Personally Backed Loans for Yesh Atid's Knesset Campaign

Solicitation of campaign loan guarantors was approved by State Comptroller.

New Finance Minister Yair Lapid enlisted the backing of a number of leading Israeli business figures in Yesh Atid's recent election campaign. A group of 79 individuals, including highfliers in finance, real estate and high-tech sector, collectively provided NIS 9.2 million in financial guarantees to the new party.

The guarantees provided the party with backing for bank credit, enabling Lapid's party to fund its election campaign. The loan guarantees, which were obtained after State Comptroller Joseph Shapira confirmed that financing the election campaign in this way was proper, were canceled after the election.

This is the first time a political party has given priority to recruiting short-term loan guarantors rather than raising financial support from outright financial contributions.

It is possible this approach was adopted in part because the maximum contribution that the law allows political parties to receive from individuals prior to a Knesset election is just NIS 2,300. In contrast, contributors to candidates in party primaries can make contributions of up to NIS 11,000.

In the run-up to the election, it was not clear that Yesh Atid would make such a strong showing at the polls. Nor was it expected that Lapid would be finance minister. He had expressed an interest in becoming education minister, and after the election unsuccessfully sought the post of foreign minister. Now that he is in the position of finance minister, however, Lapid stands to make decisions that could have a major impact on the business community, including those who provided the loan guarantees.

The list of the guarantors and contributors to Yesh Atid was disclosed on the party's website. It is thought that Yesh Atid finished the campaign with a substantial amount of funding left over because of state election campaign funding that the party received after the fact, based on its showing at the polls.

Yesh Atid garnered 19 of the Knesset's 120 seats and was therefore entitled to government support of NIS 27.2 million. Before the country went to the polls in January, the party - which Lapid formed in advance of the election and had never appeared on the ballot before - projected that the campaign would cost NIS 13 million. Assuming the actual expenses were in line with the party's forecast, there would be no reason for the party's bank lenders to look to the guarantors on the loan in light of the NIS 27.2 million Yesh Atid got from the state.

Among the guarantors of the party loans was Lapid himself, a former current affairs television show host who personally backed NIS 130,000 of his party's bank financing. Yesh Atid also received a guarantee of NIS 130,000 from the party's publicist, Yoram Bauman; NIS 118,000 in guarantees from Ishay Davidi, one of the owners of the First Israel Mezzanine Investors (FIMI ) fund, which is in negotiations to acquire a major stake in El Al Israel Airlines; NIS 130,000 from Shlomo Dovrat, one of the founders of the Carmel Ventures capital fund, and his wife, Miri, who provided a NIS 100,000 guarantee. Others included Lapid's close friend Danny Vesely, who produced Lapid's television programs over the years and was recently appointed Lapid's bureau chief at the Finance Ministry. He gave a NIS 130,000 guarantee.

Among the others who each provided NIS 130,000 in loan guarantees to the party were Zvi Limon, who owns an investment and consulting firm; Moshik Lipetz, head of the local council in the affluent Tel Aviv suburb of Savyon; high-tech entrepreneur Dov Moran; and Gilad Altshuler, of the Altshuler-Shaham investment firm. Yossi German, whose wife Yael was elected to the Knesset on the Yesh Atid slate, provided a NIS 100,000 guarantee. Yael German is the former mayor of Herzliya and was appointed health minister in the new government.

Yesh Atid also reported that it collected NIS 90,800 in outright cash contributions, and that 45 donors each gave more than NIS 1,000 to the party. Among the donors were Yoel Razbozov (NIS 2,300 ), Yael German (NIS 2,300 ) and Mickey Levy (NIS 2,300 ), all of whom were later elected to the Knesset on the party ticket.

In other Lapid-related news, on Monday - before the onset of the Passover holiday - the new finance minister continued his marathon round of meetings with his ministry's staff. He expressed continued concern about the size of the state budget deficit and the low rate of participation in the workforce of ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens.

Lapid added that final decisions had not been made on what economic policies he would adopt, but said that after his government consultations he would solicit feedback from the public.

Olivier Fitoussi