Former MK Tzachi Hanegbi Holds Decisive Lead in Campaign Fundraising; Gideon Sa'ar Just Behind

Elections may not have been officially called yet, but that isn't stopping politicians from revving up their fundraising machines.

Elections may not have been officially called yet, but that isn't stopping politicians from revving up their fundraising machines.

In this round, former minister and Knesset member Tzachi Hanegbi stands out as the fundraising champion, TheMarker found. Last month, Hanegbi announced that he was leaving upstart Kadima to return to his former party, Likud. Since he is not currently a Knesset member, MK fundraising restrictions do not apply to him. He does not, for instance, need to abide by the restriction prohibiting him from receiving more than NIS 11,000 from a single donor.

Because Hanegbi returned to Likud a month ago, that's the party for which the report tracking political donations on the state comptroller's website lists his donation information. This year, through July 22 - the day he returned to Likud - Hanegbi received 21 donations totaling NIS 339,242. Eleven of these donations came from abroad. Knesset members and ministers seeking to raise money for primary campaigns can take no more than NIS 11,000 from any one household. The fundraising cap kicks in for people who are not elected officials only once the primary campaigns actually begin.

Thus, while Hanegbi was still in Kadima earlier this year, he received NIS 15,000 from businesswoman Galia Albin. A day before he announced he was switching parties, he received four donations from abroad totaling NIS 70,000, including three donations of NIS 19,000 each. He also received two donations from one Florida resident, totaling NIS 92,500. The donor is a family friend of Hanegbi's wife, Randi. The fact that Hanegbi isn't bound by the MK's fundraising limitations gives him a significant advantage, as he can find fewer donors and accept more from each. Regardless of how much he brings in, though, Hanegbi is expected to win a top slot on the Likud list, according party sources.

Hanegbi stated in response that he had been fundraising for the past year and hopes to return to public service.

Tycoons are out

Hanegbi is not the only politician raising money. Likud members expect the country's next general elections will be held in early or mid-2013, earlier than currently scheduled. If this happens, then the party's primary elections will be held late this year or early next year.

They're preparing for a tough battle between current MKs and ministers, too, since polls indicate the party is falling in the rankings, which means not everyone will make it into the next Knesset.

But the fact that elections have not actually been called is making it difficult to raise money, say politicians. Potential donors aren't eager to open their wallets when they don't know when elections will actually be held. Plus, would-be donors want to know that the recipient is likely to make it into the Knesset before they donate.

Plus, there's a recession approaching. "The tycoons won't be eager to donate when their shares are losing money," said one MK, with disappointment in his voice.

So who's not playing yet?

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar ranks second after Hanegbi, with 27 donations so far this year, totaling NIS 254,256. Nineteen of these donations are from abroad. Donors include his wife, Shelly, who gave him NIS 400, and the Applebaum family from California, who gave him a total of NIS 19,000 in two donations.

Sa'ar was the party's fundraising leader in the buildup to the 2008 primaries, with donors including current Prime Minister's Office director general Harel Locker, former Maariv shareholder Vladimir Gusinsky and diamond merchant David Arabov. He also received NIS 9,714 from Florida resident Mark Tannenbaum, who generally donates to several Likud candidates. He gave Limor Livnat NIS 10,724 this past May, and he gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu NIS 42,000 when he was running for the Likud leadership at the beginning of the year.

Livnat ranked third, with NIS 161,865 raised so far this year, from 14 foreign donations and two local ones. That includes NIS 10,000 from Fima Falic, whose family donated a total of NIS 168,000 to Netanyahu during the 2008 primaries. Other notable donors included Leah Globus of the Globus cinema chain.

Others raising money included Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel, who raised NIS 102,034 from seven foreign donations and eight local ones; MK Ofir Akunis, who raised NIS 97,000 from 19 donors, including Cinema City owner Moshe Edery; and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who raised NIS 109,768 from nine U.S. donors and six local ones. Erdan was the second-biggest fundraiser in the 2008 Likud primaries.

One person notably absent from the list is Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who hasn't raised anything yet. In 2008 he ranked sixth among his party-mates, with NIS 378,461.

Another MK who hasn't reported raising any money yet is Lea Nass, wife of accountant and corporate liquidator Shlomo Nass. One of her notable donors in 2010 was businessman Ilan Ben-Dov, who gave her NIS 10,000. Given the state of his businesses now, it'll be interesting to see if he donates again.

Yacimovich focusing on small donors

Members of other parties have also started raising money for potential primaries. Habayit Hayehudi has primaries scheduled for November 6, and party head Daniel Hershkowitz has raised NIS 187,000 so far, while MK Zevulun Orlev has raised NIS 181,000. Orlev's notable donors include his good friend, Bank Igud CEO Haim Freilichman, who gave NIS 5,000.

Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu's former chief of staff, is also contending for a spot on the party's list, and has raised NIS 195,000 so far, including NIS 160,000 he donated to himself. A candidate and his immediate family are allowed to contribute as much as the full expenditure permitted for a primary campaign. The larger the candidate's party, the larger the permitted expenditure.

Ayelet Shaked, Netanyahu's former bureau chief, is also planning to run for a slot on that party's list. She has raised NIS 16,000.

Registration for Habayit Hayehudi primaries ends September 9. The party anticipates it will have 30,000 members this time around. In this case, each candidate may spend NIS 450,000 to run for the party chairmanship and NIS 225,000 to run for the Knesset.

And what's happening over at Kadima? The party may be plummeting in the polls, but Knesset members are already pulling in donations. So far this year, MK Jacob Edery has raised four donations in Israel totaling NIS 40,000. Nachman Shai raised NIS 34,000 with 10 donations, including six from abroad. And Yoel Hasson raised NIS 18,460 with 13 foreign donations.

Unlike Kadima, the Labor Party is expected to do better in the next round of elections, according to polls. Recent polls indicate it may even double its Knesset representation, pulling in 15 to 18 seats, up from its current eight.

However, party members aren't yet actively raising money. Party leader Shelly Yacimovich is raising money from average citizens, most of whom are giving a few dozen or a few hundred shekels. So far, she's raised NIS 11,000 this year, and she offers potential donors the option of paying online.

Some MKs haven't started raising money yet.

"I have no reason to start until we know when primaries and elections will be held," said MK Eitan Cabel. Would-be Knesset candidates also include Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit; former police chief Moshe Mizrahi; head of the party's youth division, Michal Biran; and high-tech entrepreneur Ofer Kornfeld. Mizrahi reported donating NIS 20,000 to himself.