Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett will have to pay a 65,000 shekels ($18,200) fine for violating campaign financing laws, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said on Wednesday.
Shapira faulted Bennett for failing to report on some of his expenses during his primary bid late last year and on the origins of the funds he used. The report focused mainly on Habayit Hayehudi's race for party chairman, which pitted Bennett against then incumbent leader Zevulun Orlev (officially Habayit Hayehudi is an alliance of two separate parties -- The National Religious Party and The National Union).
According to Shapira, Bennett also paid for some of his campaign expenses through his private bank account and did not report on the private investigator he had hired for research on his rivals. Bennett's fine is unusually high and reflects what Shapira calls "a lack of compliance with legal requirements."
According to Shapira, Bennett's private investigator -- who was tasked with finding evidence of illegal activities by Orlev and another contender, Nissan Slomiansky -- was never mentioned in the reports Bennett filed.
In his report, the state comptroller discounted Bennett's claim that the private investigator's role was to make sure the elections were fair. "There is no doubt that at the time of his hiring, the candidate [Bennett] had no official title in the National Religious Party and did not have the authority to hire any services on its behalf," Shapira wrote in his report. "In light of these circumstances, I conclude that this expenditure item cannot be billed as part of the party's expenses and must be part of the candidate's campaign spending." Orlev, who was ultimately unseated by Bennett, was found to have complied with the necessary statutes and regulations.
The comptroller also levied a 2,000 shekel ($560) fine on former Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who withdrew from the race before the ballots were cast. Hershkowitz, according to Shapira, failed to produce the necessary documentation on his expenditures.
Another 52 politicians from various parties were fined by Shapira over their campaign financing irregularities. Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) was fined NIS 20,000 shekels ($5,606) and MK Moshe Feiglin has to pay NIS 18,000 ($5,030) for their Knesset bid. A third of those who competed in the Likud primaries have to pay a fine as well.
Over at Habayit Hayehudi, half of all the candidates who competed for place on the Knesset list were fined. MK Ayelet Shaked has to pay a NIS 5,000 ($1,401) fine and MK Yoni Chetboun will have to pay NIS 4,700 ($1,317). Fourteen Labor Knesset hopefuls, out of a total of 83, were also fined. Among them is Labor MK Erel Margalit, who was fined NIS 3,000 ($840). Shapira also fined three of the 17 Meretz candidates.
Shapira said the Knesset must outlaw campaign contributions from overseas donors since "such fundraising implies support from outside groups that may not have any connection or ties to the State of Israel but who want, through their contributions, to set the agenda in Israel."
Habayit Hayehudi said in a statement on Wednesday that it "Welcomes the state comptroller's comprehensive and professional report; the party chairman and its MKs have received the report and are currently studying it. They will make sure to right the wrongs."
"Unlike in past primaries, this race included candidates for whom this was their first primary. However, in light of the multiple fines, affecting half of the candidates, the chairman will place the current system under review in time for the next primaries," the statement continued.
The comptroller's report also included a damning section on candidates running for regional council head in various localities. Out of 60 candidates on the ballot, only three reported that they had zero expenses and another three never filed a report on the campaign expenditures.