MKs: Raise Campaign Contribution Ceiling

Elections are slated only for November 2010, but Kadima, Labor and Likud - parties that hold primaries - want to amend the law governing party spending so that candidates aiming for a place on their party's Knesset list will be able to raise more money than the present law allows.

Only three lawmakers were present at yesterday's discussion of the bill in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee: committee chair MK Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) and MK Michael Eitan (Likud).

Under the current law, a candidate for a Knesset list may raise a maximum of NIS 10,000 from an individual donor (corporate contributions are illegal). A candidate for the leadership of a large party may raise up to NIS 40,000 from individual supporters. The proposed amendment would increase the amount of contributions that big-party candidates would be permitted to raise for their primary campaign, and cut the amount that small parties can raise. For example, the proposed amendment states that a candidate in a party with 100,000 members would be able to raise a maximum of NIS 400,000, while a larger party would be able to raise NIS 480,000. Another clause in the bill would increase the amount a candidate for party chief would be allowed to raise to four to five times the amount permitted a candidate for the list. This would mean that individuals running for their party's top slot could collect up to NIS 2.5 to 3 million from donors, as opposed to the present ceiling of NIS 2 million.

Pines-Paz, whose party is said generally to favor the bill for increased campaign spending, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Ben-Sasson and Eitan not to raise the ceiling at all.

"Just to send letters to 100,000 party members costs about NIS 200,000," they responded.

The bill, which is to be brought for a vote by the committee soon, might still undergo changes. Many lawmakers running in the primary believe they should be allowed to raise more money to finance their campaigns, so as not to find themselves breaking the law. Meanwhile, agreement was reached on one issue during yesterday's meeting: Every MK would be allowed to spend NIS 50,000 of his or her own money on advisers, every year except election year. Ben-Sasson said the bill would narrow the gaps between wealthy MKs whose access to the public is almost unlimited, and those with less financial resources.