[OUTLOOK]Direct election funding is better

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[OUTLOOK]Direct election funding is better

It goes without saying that political parties should be democratic. Most people believe that "boss-centered" parties are part of the underlying reasons for the corruption in Korean politics, so it is clear that cleaning up the system and democratizing our politics is a crucial task.

Democratization of political parties should start with demolishing the most important political resources that the party bosses hold in their hands: the authority to nominate candidates and their monopoly of the management of political funds.

The central government gave over 100 billion won ($76.4 million) to support political parties in 2001, an amount 125 times that of the 800 million won provided in 1980. With so much government money being lavished on bloated parties which are occupied with competition in the presidential race regardless of complaints and criticism of the public, the necessity of reforming this funding system is pressing.

The law on political funding says that the sources of political funds can be trust money, contributions, government subsidies and party membership fees. Among these funding sources, the trust money system is alive only in name after the abolition of the designated trust money system in 1997. Party membership fees make up only a minor part of party income; they are mostly special membership fees of the party's executives. Therefore, parties generally rely on state subsidies and contributions raised from supporters. The problem is that these funds are controlled entirely by the leaders of the existing political parties. Along with the problem of state funds being dished out at an increasingly fast rate, there is the greater evil that 95 percent of the funds are hogged by three major parties: the Grand National Party, the Millennium Democratic Party and the United Liberal Democrats.

Contributions from supporters are also limited to political parties, lawmakers and candidates running for a seat in the National Assembly. Candidates running for local offices are left to fend for themselves as best they can. But the biggest problem of all is the existence of illegally raised funds. This illegal money, suspected to be tens or hundreds of times more than official political funds, provide fertile ground for political corruption to grow and flourish.

In comparing the political funding systems of various countries, it was found that the more party-centered the funds-handl-ing systems were, the less independence legislators had from party control. Should a particular individual or group control a party's funds, the party itself would fall under the control of that individual or group. As government support funds increase, parties are becoming more bureaucratic and less responsive to the public. The more the political funds are shrouded, the higher the possibility of political corruption. So the solution to the problem of renovating the political fund-raising system is obvious.

First, the annual government subsidy of about 26 billion won to the parties should be stopped, and the amount should be given as subsidies to support election campaigns, not the party organization. This would force the downsizing of the unnecessary bureaucracy of the central party organizations and contribute to a better party structure. It would also help prevent illegal fund-raising and thus keep the candidates away from the grasp of corruption.

In addition, the procedures for providing the government subsidy should be changed. The 100 billion won in election support funds should be given to individual candidates, not to the party as is currently being done. This would help candidates maintain their independence from their parties.

This will induce the development of parties with distinguishable colors and ideology. The hunt by potential candidates for a party willing to fund them has resulted in the motley groups we now call political parties.

Support for individual candidates should be disbursed from the state funds in proportion to the number of small contributions, under 100,000 won per person that the candidate has collected. Contributions from nonvoters such as juridical persons, corporations, should be forbidden.

Reliance on small contributions donated by the general public must be encouraged in order for Korean politics to break free from ties with the business sector and meet the expectations of the people.

The crucial factor here is the transparency of the disbursing and use of political funds. All receipts and expenditures of political funds should be reported to the election management committee and centralized into a single account open to public view to root out illegal fund-raising. Any receipts or expenditures of funds other than those reported should be made illegal and punished accordingly.

The insatiable greed of today's crowd-mobilizing politics should not be allowed anymore, and more public broadcasting time should be devoted to communication between the candidates and the voters.


The writer is a professor of political science at Kyung Hee University.

by Kim Meen-geon

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