[NOTEBOOK]Every Lawmaker Has His Agenda, Price

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[NOTEBOOK]Every Lawmaker Has His Agenda, Price

Let me tell you about a former lawmaker, a man I'll call Jeon Guk-gu. Jeonguk-gu in Korean means "national constituency" but it has a homonym meaning "money constituency" as well. The family name I pick for him, Jeon, means money. As you might assume, Mr. Jeon once won his gold badge that Korean lawmakers wear through proportional representation system. Mr. Jeon was engaged in a construction business at that time, so he paid a hefty sum of money to a party in exchange for the national constituency seat that fell within the category of safe numbers to be named a legislator. The so-called "contribution for party nomination" exceeded 3 billion won ($2.3 million). The contribution was changed to "special party donation" on the grounds that a contribution in exchange for a party nomination was illegal, but the essence was the same.

At the time, people could not understand Mr. Jeon's act. They thought he might seek to resolve his complex about his low educational level with money. But Mr. Jeon had calculated his own plan. He believed his investment would pay off. First, he was convinced that he could collect about 1 billion won for sure. A lawmaker for the current 16th National Assembly is paid about 7.5 million won a month. His annual income as a legislator then surpassed 50 million won a year. That would amount to 200 million won during the four years of his tenure. The Assembly would also pay for his assistants. One lawmaker is entitled to have six assistants in total. Their combined wages amounted to 200 million won a year. Mr. Jeon filled all the assistants' posts with employees from his construction company. In this way, he could have the National Assembly pay to employees' wages for him for four years. In total, Mr. Jeon could save more than 600 million won in labor costs.

Official fund-raising events held in the name of supporters are useful means of having money refunded. A lawmaker was legally allowed to raise up to 300 million won a year. So depending on how he did it, Mr. Jeon could raise up to 1.2 billion in four years in his office, for which he did put in an extensive effort. Of course, there were some miscellaneous earnings. Whenever Mr. Jeon was undergoing an important agenda during parliamentary inspection of government offices or in his standing committee, people from related agencies or companies paid visits to him. They asked him to be easy on them, and some left white envelopes that contained cash.

Mr. Jeon also enjoyed extra benefits, such as traveling overseas under the name of "legislator's diplomacy." He was paid for his travel, was entitled to use VIP rooms in the airport and could treat staff members at various Korean embassies as his servants. Mr. Jeon confessed that he enjoyed such privileges as much as he did yelling at ministers or vice ministers while pounding on the desk with his fist in the standing committee at the National Assembly.

Mr. Jeon eventually lost his chance of being named in the last election because he lost his political connection in the confused situation of change of power between the ruling and the opposition. But he said he was prepared for the next election. He was determined to become an assemblyman again, no matter what party that he should build a connections with.

Unfortunately, some recent news surprised him. The Constitutional Court ruled that the current election system, under which people cast only one vote for a candidate for regional constituency to select both regional and national lawmakers, violated the Constitution. The court also took issue with the undemocratic nature of the current party nomination practices.

But Mr. Jeon soon found comfort when told that politicians from the ruling and opposition parties would revise the election laws. Mr. Jeon asserted that those politicians would surely open the way for him to win another gold badge. Mr. Jeon said he could bet on that. Would we be able to see him in the 17th National Assembly?


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The writer is deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Gyo-joon

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