For Would-be MKs, Knesset Loss Means Millions in Campaign Bills

Government funding will cover pricey campaign costs for winning parties, but those who found themselves outside Knesset won't be so lucky

Hayamin Hehadash Co-Chair Naftali Bennett after polls were closed at party headquarters in Bnei Brak, April 9, 2019.

Likud’s election victory didn’t just mean 35 Knesset seats for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party. It also meant that the party would be getting significant funding from the state to cover its election campaign expenses.

Not all the contenders in Israel’s recent elections were so lucky, however. Particularly for parties that found themselves outside the Knesset, the campaign is over and now it’s time to pay the bills. For many parties outside the Knesset, this means that well-off backers will find their guarantees are being cashed in.

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Likud ran a particularly expensive campaign, flying in foreign pollster and adviser John McLaughlin for several weeks. By the end of the campaign, McLaughlin was conducting daily polls for the party – an expensive luxury that most parties can’t allow themselves, which probably cost some 2-3 million shekels ($560,000-$840,000).

Likud spent another 50-60 million shekels just on advertising spots. In total, it probably spent 70-80 million shekels on the campaign.

Fortunately for Likud, 36 Knesset seats translates into 47 million shekels of government funding to put toward its campaign expenses. The party had another 10 million shekels in its coffers, which leaves it 10 million shekels to make up – not a large sum for a party of Likud’s size.

Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party likely spent 30-40 million shekels on its campaign, and this sum, too, is likely to be covered by the government due to the party’s election achievement – it will be getting about 30 million shekels for its 35 Knesset seats, on top of the money the candidates raised before coming together to form the Kahol Lavan list.

Other lists, however, will find themselves with significant debt. Those that didn’t make it into the Knesset will be receiving only 1.4 million shekels to cover their campaign expenses. For parties such as Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett’s Hayamin Hehadash, which expected a decent number of seats, this is not nearly enough.

In these cases, the parties’ wealthy guarantors will likely find themselves footing the bill.

Hayamin Hehadash stated that the party made the risks clear to its guarantors in advance, and said that this money accounted for the bulk of the party’s campaign financing.

Hayamin Hehadash is thought to face a debt of some 3 million shekels for the current campaign.

When Shaked and Bennett broke off from Habayit Hayehudi in December, they left that party with several million shekels in debts as well.

Orli Levi-Abekassis ran a modest campaign, but she, too, is likely to need her guarantors to pay up on the 3 million shekels in credit they gave her. They may not have seen this coming – a year ago, polls gave her eight Knesset seats should she run on her own. Her party, Gesher, ultimately didn’t make it into the Knesset.

Moshe Feiglin and his Zehut party ran a campaign that likely cost about 6 million shekels. The party has only 2.3 million shekels in guarantees. At the time when most of the businessmen backing the party agreed to be guarantors, polls predicted Zehut’s place in the next Knesset was certain.

However, Zehut hopes that its guarantors won’t have to part with their money. A party spokesperson said that the parties have until February 2020 to pay off their campaign expenses, and said that it hopes to cover the sum by via funding from its base before then.