MKs Quake at Bad Timing for Campaign Donations

These sorry days of crashing asset prices and shrinking economies are a bad time to cajole donations.

President Shimon Peres' decision yesterday to hold early elections has caught Israel's political parties unprepared, financially speaking at least. Nor are these sorry days of crashing asset prices and shrinking economies a fortuitous time to cajole donations, and the Knesset members know it well.

"I'm wracking my brains," confesses Colette Avital of Labor, saying she hates having to tap foreign donors.

"I feel like a beggar at the door," says her partymate Yoram Marciano. If they accept donations, which they must, they are accused of kowtowing to wealth, he adds.

Yet Israel's Knesset members must run campaigns, hire offices and aides, publish material and advertise. Kadima, Labor, Meretz and Likud will be holding primaries in a month and a half, and the parliamentarians are worried: how can they raise money for drives to persuade the public they deserve to keep their seats?

Usually the politicians tap the tycoons for contributions. Big business knows that a few thousand shekels to the right politician can generate wonderful returns in the future, at the very least gaining them friendly access and a chance to voice their economic opinions, and at most, influencing regulation.

Shelly Yachimovich of Labor says that the process of tapping businessmen for funds is highly problematic. But on the other hand, she points out, taking money from the state - meaning the taxpayer - for political campaigns has been delegitimized. The contenders have no choice but to solicit donations, Yachimovich concludes.

On the other hand, the big parties' donation ceiling is excessive, she says. Good politicians can find volunteers, Yachimovich suggests.

Reuven Rivlin, former Knesset speaker and a current Likud parliamentarian, says he believes Likud will form the next coalition. Therefore, since each of its Knesset members are potential ministers, wealth must not be allowed to "cast its bread upon the water," hoping for future gain.

Peres called early elections after Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni failed to build a coalition.