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Summary

Israeli law applies limits on campaign contributions and expenditures in both primaries and general elections. An increased ceiling on contributions is provided to candidates who provide a timely notice of intent not to receive direct governmental funding.

Each participating party and candidate list is given free campaign broadcasts during a fourteen-day period before the elections. The length of the broadcasts is determined in accordance with a formula that is composed of a fixed amount, extended by additional time calculated in correlation to the number of members the party or list had in the outgoing Knesset.

I. Introduction

Israel maintains a parliamentary system of government, with the Prime Minister serving as the executive authority of the state and the head of the government,[1] and the President serving as the Head of State.[2] Knesset (Parliament) members are chosen from candidates’ lists selected by the parties, following their own primaries. The Prime Minister is selected by the President and is usually the head of the largest party, or the party capable of forming a coalition government.[3]

Most major parties elect their candidates in primaries. The financing of the primary elections held by the political parties is regulated by the Parties Law, 5752-1992, as amended.[4] The financing of the general elections for the Knesset is regulated primarily by the Political Parties (Financing) Law, 5733-1973, as amended (PP(F)L).[5] As a general rule, the financing of political campaigns in Israel is derived from both private and government funding. Parties obtain government funding for the duration of the campaign and for ongoing expenses. They also receive an allocation of free broadcasting time during the election period. The funding and expenditures, as well as the allocation and use of free media airtime, are subject to extensive rules regarding limits, financial disclosure, and enforcement.

This report discusses the limits on contributions and on expenditures, as well as the allocation of free broadcasting time under Israeli law.

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II. Limits on Contributions and Expenditures

Candidates do not have the right to an independent campaign for election to the Knesset. They do run in primaries conducted by their relative parties. According to the Knesset website,

[t]he contest in the elections is among lists of candidates. Since the Parties Law was passed in 1992, only a party, which has been legally registered with the Party Registrar, or an alignment of two or more registered parties, which have decided to run in the elections together, can present a list of candidates and participate in the elections.[6]

Parties (or other groupings of parties or candidates) with members elected from their lists may become “factions” or “parliamentary groups” when the Knesset is formed.[7]

The law imposes caps on the contributions and expenditures of candidates in primaries, and on parties, candidate lists, factions, and new factions competing in a general election.

A.  Primaries

1. Caps on Individuals’ Contributions in Primaries

An individual donor may provide donations to different candidates during primaries, the aggregate total of which may not exceed NIS (New Israeli Shekel) 11,377 (about US$2,958).[8] In primaries for candidacy for Party Chairman and Prime Minister, however, where only one candidate may be elected, an individual donor may donate only to one candidate. Additionally, in primaries where the number of qualified voters exceeds 50,000, an individual donation may amount to NIS45,468 (about US$11,822). The law clarifies that the donations of a person and his family members and dependents are considered one donation.[9]

2.  Total Caps on Candidates’ Contributions and Expenditures in Primaries

The Law limits the total amount that may be contributed to and spent by a candidate in the primaries based on the number of eligible voters. The ceilings that apply are as follows:[10]

Table: Caps on Candidates’ Contributions and Expenditures in Primaries

Number of Eligible Voters (EVs)

Caps on Regular Candidates (CRC)

Caps on Candidates for Party Chairperson or Prime Minister

Up to 50

Donations – 0 Expenditures – NIS5,689

Double

51–999

NIS5,689 + NIS15 for each EV over first fifty EVs

Four times

10,000–99,999

NIS176,215 + NIS2.75 for each EV
over first 10,000 EVs

Four times

100,000 or more

NIS 460,432 + NIS 2 for each EV
over first 100,000 EVs

Four times

Source & Notes: Created by the author based on the Parties Law, 5752-1992, The third column was calculated based on multiplication of CRCs.

Additional amounts are provided for candidates who competed for the positions of party chairperson or Prime Minister, as well as for membership in the Knesset in the same party within 120 days.[11]

B.  General Elections

1.  Caps on Contributions

The rules regarding contributions andexpenses apply equally to parties, candidate lists, and factions. [12]

According to the PP(F)L, parties, candidate lists, and factions are prohibited from receiving corporate contributions.[13] The PP(F)L further provides that a faction may not receive from a household any donation that exceeds NIS2,300 (about US$598) in an election year and NIS1,000 (about US$260) in any other year.[14] A party not represented in the Knesset may receive a donation in an amount not exceeding five times the NIS2,300 and 1,000 amounts cited for candidates’ lists. A party or a candidate list that did not get enough votes to enter the Knesset may, nevertheless, receive donations within twelve months following the election to cover its election debts.[15]

2.  Increased Caps on Contributions for Voluntarily Opting Out of Government Funding

A candidate list or a faction that delivers a timely notice that it does not wish to receive the governmental funding to which it is entitled by law may receive donations in an amount up to NIS125,500 instead of the NIS1,000 or 2,300 caps otherwise applicable.[16]

3.  Ceilings on Expenditures

The ceiling on election expenses by a faction, including a new faction,[17] is seventy “financing units.” Each “financing unit” equaled NIS1,368,100 (about US$355,706) as of March 2015.[18] This ceiling applies subject to the following conditions:

  1. A faction that on the “determining day “was composed of up to five Knesset members may not spend more than ten financial units;
  2. A faction that on the “determining day “was composed of six to ten Knesset members may not spend more than two financing units per each Knesset member;
  3. A faction that on the “determining day “ was composed of eleven or more Knesset members may not spend more than two financing units for each of the first ten members, and one and half times of one financing unit for every remaining member;
  4. A candidate list may not spend more than the equivalent of ten financing units or the amounts listed under 2 or 3, in correlation to the number of seats in gained in the Knesset, whichever amount is higher.[19]

4.  Allocation of Free Broadcasting Time

Israeli law provides for direct and indirect governmental funding of election campaigns. The most substantial form of indirect public financing provided seems to be the allocation of free campaign broadcasts to all participating parties and candidate lists during a fourteen-day period before the elections.[20]

In accordance with the Elections (Modes of Propaganda) Law, 5719-1959, each party and candidate list will be given seven minutes of airtime, and each party already represented in the outgoing Knesset will receive two additional minutes of airtime for each Member. The broadcasting time must be provided free of charge by the two public broadcasters. Although the television broadcasting time is free, the program itself must be produced and financed by the parties, and approved by the Chairman of the Central Election Committee.[21] Additionally, the grant of free broadcasting time does not exclude acquiring additional broadcasting time by the candidates for a fee.[22]

Similarly, every party or candidate list is allocated fifteen minutes of free radio airtime for campaign broadcasts; every party represented in the outgoing Parliament is given an additional four minutes for each Member.[23]

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Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
March 2016


[1] Basic Law: The Government, as amended, §§ 1 & 4–5, http://main.knesset.gov.il/Activity/Legislation/Laws/   Pages/LawPrimary.aspx?t=lawlaws&st=lawlaws&lawitemid=2000040 (original law and amendments, in Hebrew), unofficial translation at http://knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/BasicLawTheGovernment.pdf (last visited Feb. 29, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/5EH7-CXV7. Please note that the Knesset website provides translations of a limited number of laws. Links to translations of this and other legislation, when available, are provided in this report. Up-to-date text of all cited legislation is available at Nevo legal database, http://www.nevo.co.il (in Hebrew, by subscription).

[2] Basic Law: The President of the State, http://main.knesset.gov.il/Activity/Legislation/Laws/Pages/LawPrimary.   aspx?t=lawlaws&st=lawlawsbasic&lawitemid=2000050 (original law and amendments, in Hebrew), unofficial translation at http://knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/BasicLawThePresident.pdf (last visited Feb. 29, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/Z2UY-9B8F.

[3] For rules regarding the appointment of the Prime Minister, see Basic Law: The Government §§ 7–10.

[4] Parties Law, 5752-1992, § 17, as amended, available at Nevo, archived at https://perma.cc/24WF-ZDH9.

[5] Political Parties (Financing) Law 5733-1973, as amended, available at Nevo, archived at https://perma.cc/VW99- SFAA.

[6] Who Can Participate in Elections?, THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM IN ISRAEL, http://knesset.gov.il/description/eng/eng_   mimshal_beh.htm (last visited Mar. 3, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/2ZKQ-5SZF.

[7] Parties,Lists,ParliamentaryGroups, Etc., THE KNESSET, http://knesset.gov.il/faction/eng/FactionEtc_eng.asp (last visited Mar. 3, 2016), archived at http://knesset.gov.il/faction/eng/FactionEtc_eng.asp.

[8] The conversion rate of all referenced NIS amounts in the report was approximately US$0.26 for every NIS1.00 on March 1, 2016. See XE CURRENCY CONVERTER, http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/convert/?Amount=1&From=ILS&To=USD (last visited Mar. 1, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/6XZP-2JTJ.

[9] Parties Law § 28F.

[10] Id. § 28H(a)–(b).

[11] Id. § 28H(c).

[12] Political Parties (Financing) Law 5733-1973, § 8E.

[13] Id. § 8A.

[14] Id. § 8(b) & (c).

[15] Id. § 8(c1)–(c2).

[16] Id. § 8C.

[17] Represented in the incoming Knesset by at least one member. Id. § 1.

[18] Id. §§ 1 & 7B.

[19] Id. § 7(c) (translated by author, R.L.).

[20] Elections (Modes of Propaganda) Law, 5719-1959, §§ 15(a1) & 15A(a), available at Nevo, archived at https://perma.cc/MV84-XAW9.

[21] Id. §§ 15A(b) & 16C.

[22] Id. § 16D.

[23] Id. § 15(a).

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Last Updated: 05/16/2016