[FOUNTAIN]Putting reins on Korea’s illicit lobbies

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[FOUNTAIN]Putting reins on Korea’s illicit lobbies

The United States is often called a battlefield of lobbyists. There are an estimated 30,000 lobbyists in the Washington, D.C., area, including unregistered ones. Lobbyists boast enough clout to move America. Some call them the “fifth estate,” after the legislative, judicial and executive branches and the media.
Fortune magazine named the American Association of Retired Persons, the AARP, as the most powerful lobbying group. Any American over age 50 can join the association, and it currently has over 30 million members. The AARP exercises great influence on the government’s policy on senior citizens, from welfare issues to Medicare programs. The second most influential lobbying group is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an advocacy group with 55,000 members. Under the motto of “lobby from the roots,” AIPAC frequently invites government officials, Congressmen and presidential aides associated with Israel policy and maintains friendly ties. It has very strong financial backing. Among Asian countries, Taiwan has a lobbying organization of the caliber of Israel’s. Meanwhile, Korea’s lobbying efforts in Washington have been tainted by the so-called “Koreagate” scandal of 1976. Also known as the Park Dong-sun scandal, the disclosure of bribery by the Washington Post once froze Korea-U.S. relations.
American corporations spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying efforts. According to Fortune, 500 technology companies spent $38.9 million last year. High-tech companies that once focused only on research and development now try to influence legislation that might affect their operations or profits.
The governing Uri Party proclaimed that it would push for lobbying legislation. Modeled after the U.S. Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, only registered lobbyists would be allowed. An unregistered lobbyist could be punished by law. The initiators of the bill believe that under-the-table deals would diminish if companies and interest groups could openly lobby.
But it is doubtful that the legislation could change the clandestine nature of lobbying. It is also ironic that Uri Party talks about a lobbying act when it is being hurt by charges that some politicians lobbied to get a proportional representation candidacy.

by Lee Se-jung

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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