[OUTLOOK]Fund law needs another revision

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[OUTLOOK]Fund law needs another revision

The political fund law of South Korea was enacted in 1965 and underwent 16 revisions, including two rewrites of all the provisions and one complete restructuring of the law itself. Nevertheless, it is destined that the 17th presidential election next year will rely on secret funds if the law is not revised one more time. The reason things have gone this far is because politicians have tried to solve problems by treating the symptoms rather than devising a fundamental cure and are instilled with the practice of engaging in improvised legislative activities, instead of enacting laws with a long-term view.
On June 30 last year, the National Assembly approved a completely restructured political fund law on the pretext of “providing the foundation for sound management by securing the transparency of political funds.” Contrary to its noble cause, I worry over the side effects of the new law as it includes more than a few blind spots. The politicians revised the law ignoring the reality they were in, as they were under the pressure of the “reform theory,” and followed empty academic discussions.
First of all, the problem lies with the provision that stipulates the abolition of city and provincial party chapters’ supporters’ associations from March 13. The abolition seems to be motivated by the fact that collusion between politicians and businessmen had been made through the political parties’ supporters’ associations. However, it is hard to understand how they intended to supplement the loss of income caused by that abolition. When around 10 billion won ($10 million) of financial support from the supporters’ association is discontinued, the parties have only two alternatives: reducing the party’s staff drastically or increasing its reliance on party fees. However, neither option seems feasible at present.
In a reality where unemployment is a social problem, there is no political party that will dare to lay off salaried staff en masse and there is no precedent for any party to reduce its workforce at a time when elections are around the corner. If it is difficult to reduce the staff of the party, they should solve the problem by increasing party fees, but that is not possible either. Except for the Democratic Labor Party, the portion of members who pay party dues is very low and the ratio of party fees to total income is meager. The solution lies in increasing government subsidies to the parties through agreement among political parties, or accepting unofficial contributions from businesses. Ultimately, it is tantamount to leaving such irrational aspects of the political fund law untouched and, as a result, deceiving people under the guise of “reform.”
An even more serious problem than the abolition of parties’ supporters’ associations is a clause that bans presidential candidates from organizing supporters’ associations. It stipulates that the candidates who run for party primaries for deciding the presidential candidate can have supporters’ associations but the presidential candidate cannot. It is ridiculous that the presidential candidate is excluded, while the mayoral and gubernatorial candidates who win the party primaries are included. It is not clear whether this clause results from the assumption that a presidential candidate shall be a National Assemblyman, who is, naturally, also allowed to have his or her own supporters’ association or the self-righteousness that only National Assembly members should be presidential candidates, or out of simple carelessness. Anyway, this is the most poisonous clause the new political fund law includes.
If this clause remains untouched, there will be no way for candidates in the next presidential race to obtain the enormous amount of expenses needed for an election campaign. The supporters’ association for the party is banned as well. The parties will have to rely on government subsidies, increasing the tax burden on people. Even when the party has a considerable amount of money, if the relationship between the party and the candidate is not harmonious, support from the party will not be smooth and the candidate will be tempted to accept secret funds from outside sources. Now, a presidential campaign with secret funds has been created by the politicians themselves.
In practice, both Chung Dong-young, the chairman of the Uri Party, and Lee Myung-bak, the mayor of Seoul, are not members of the Assembly. Therefore, they cannot have their own supporters’ associations, even if they are elected as their party’s presidential candidates. This will work as a critical weak point in the party primaries. I wonder whether they will run in the primaries without demanding to revise the clause. In order to prevent a presidential race with secret funds and a possible controversy over unfair competition, the politicians must promote a revision of the political fund law once again.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Shim Ji-yeon
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