[EDITORIALS]Politics awash in slush

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[EDITORIALS]Politics awash in slush

The administration's proposal that some taxes paid by local businesses be used as campaign funds has aroused active debate in political circles. In an election year, with both presidential and local elections, campaign funds will naturally emerge as a hot issue. After every election, scandals erupt over funds that companies funneled to politicians, and many business people and politicians are dragged to court. This vicious circle can't go on forever.

This was not the first time that such a proposal was raised. Last year, the National Election Committee proposed in its call for a revision of political laws that companies paying taxes exceeding more than 300 million won ($22,7000) be required to contribute 1 percent of their tax bill to campaign funds. The opposition parties also agreed to the proposal in principle - albeit under a different standard and on condition that donor companies be barred from participating in party fund-raisings.

But this is not a simple matter of using tax money for campaign funds. Many corporate taxpayers as well as the public would reject the arrangement. They would naturally ask why taxpayers' money should be used to financially support the political circle, a high-cost, low-efficiency sector.

It is also likely that while getting more government support, politicians will continue to raise funds illicitly. Businesses pose themselves as victims. But it takes two to tango. Companies themselves have cultivated collusive links with politicians. They must break the old practice of raising slush funds through illegal activities to give money to politicians.

With the retrograde political reality left intact, calls to enhance national competitiveness would likely be empty rhetoric. The National Assembly's special committee on political reforms have been spinning its wheels since 1998, without concluding a proposal to amend a law regulating political funds. Although the key to restoring public trust in politicians lies in ensuring transparent fund-raising, the political circle has turned a deaf ear to the issue.

Presidential candidates can raise no more than 150 billion won including a 60 billion won campaign subsidy from the government. But in reality, a presidential race cost each candidate hundreds of billions of won. This gap is too big. If public funding of election campaigns is to be adopted, politicians should reduce election and political costs. In addition, the election spending of politicians should come under strict scrutiny and violators must be punished.

Efforts to improve transparency in political funding seems to have begun in earnest, as the Federation of Korean Industries has announced that they will stop providing illicit funds for politicians. We hope that the political circle, business community and the public seize this opportunity to break out of the dark past of slush funds and political imcompetence.
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