Several senior Likud officials on Sunday publicly accused the organization V15 of representing an attempt by the rival Zionist Camp, headed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, to circumvent the campaign finance laws. This claim was sparked by a Haaretz report about how Victory 2015, or V15, had joined forces with the OneVoice organization in an effort to get Benjamin Netanyahu out of the Prime Minister’s Office. Calling this a new version of the scandal that erupted 16 years ago over the use of nongovernmental organizations in Ehud Barak’s prime ministerial campaign, these Likud members are demanding a preliminary investigation into V15, OneVoice and a third organization, Molad, on suspicion of violating the campaign finance laws.
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There are indeed grounds for investigating whether the campaign finance laws have been broken. Helping a particular party’s election campaign is liable to constitute an illegal donation – meaning one that isn’t reported to the state comptroller or that exceeds the permitted ceiling. Billboards urging people not to vote for a particular candidate could be construed as billboards in support of a different candidate, and thereby violate the legal limits on campaign advertising. A preliminary investigation into the matter must be conducted quickly, to confirm or refute suspicions that the cleanliness of the campaign has been violated.
Such an investigation is also a supreme interest for Herzog himself, to dispel all suspicions of corruption. In the affair of the NGOs that helped Barak in 1999, Herzog, who served as one of Barak’s top campaign officials, exercised his right to remain silent. At that time, he had not yet begun his political career. Today, when he is running for the prime minister’s seat, he ought to behave differently.
But this alone isn’t enough. The accusations by Netanyahu’s supporters are a case of the pot calling the kettle black, demonstrating blindness toward what looks like blatant electioneering on his behalf every day of the year.
The daily paper Israel Hayom has worked since the day it first appeared to perpetuate Netanyahu’s rule, and it frequently aligns with his immediate political interests. Israel Hayom is distributed for free; it has a large distribution; is financed by money from abroad; and its support for the prime minister is unreserved, both in normal times and during campaigns. The state comptroller’s lame conclusion in the past – that it’s a legitimate paper with an agenda – is unconvincing.
Strict enforcement of the limits on campaign finance and campaign advertising must be applied equally, to parties on both sides of the political map.