Yisrael Beiteinu Under Fire for Pre-elecion Spending

Report singles out Yisrael Beiteinu over conference at NIS 212,000 and Balad's NIS 175,000 fuel purchase.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released a report on Monday on political parties spending for the elections to the 18th Knesset held a year ago. A number of parties were subject to harsh criticism in the report on their election spending, and in particular Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Lindenstrauss singled out two extravagantly financed Yisrael Beiteinu conferences held just before the Knesset elections: The first was the party's campaign launch conference, which cost NIS 212,000. The second conference came at the end of the campaign and cost NIS 187,000.

Yisrael Beiteinu defended the unusually high costs as necessary in order to hold events befitting the special occasions.

"I view the parties' wasteful use of public funds provided by law to finance their election campaign with the utmost severity," Lindenstrauss wrote in the report, adding that "extremely unreasonable spending which could indicate a lack of control are a serious ocurrence which can not be ignored."

The state comptroller also criticized some factions' habit of promising bonuses to campaign managers and media advisors, such as was stated in the agreement reached between Yisrael Beiteinu and American adviser Arthur Finkelstein.

Lindenstrauss revealed that, beyond his $150,000 base fee, Finkelstein was promised an additional, increasing bonus for every additional Knesset seat garnered in the elections, beyond the 12 seats stipulated in the agreement.

After all was said and done, Yisrael Beiteinu paid its high-profile adviser a bonus totaling at NIS 653,000.

The report also stated that Avigdor Lieberman's party signed an agreement with a public realtions consulting firm, according to which the advisers would be paid a base salary of $90,000, in addition to a $10,000 to $20,000 bonus for every additional seat beyond the 12 seats. The firm was eventually paid a bonus of NIS 336,000.

Lindenstrauss also mentioned the Balad party in his report, criticizing its purchase of gasoline and fuel vouchers for NIS 175,000.

"Calculations conducted by employees of the State Comptroller's Office," Lindenstrauss wrote, "find that 33,000 liters of 95 octane gas or 29,000 liters of diesel could have been bought with that sum of money, equivalent to 300,000 km of traveling, an unreasonable amount considering the travel costs of an election campaign." The state comptroller added that Balad had not supplied a reasonable explanation that would explain the amount.

"Election results do not change the level of services provided during the campaign," Lindenstrauss wrote, adding that "in addition violating their duty to act with restraint in spending public funds and to save [public monies].."

Lindenstrauss wrote in his report that parties must refrain from signing agreements that do not set payment based on the election results.

Yisrael Beiteinu MKs often went abroad during the election period. Lieberman and other party officials spent NIS 118,000 on such trips during the campaign. The party responded to the comptroller's criticism, saying the trips were necessary to "keep in touch with potential voters," and with Jewish organizations overseas.