[VIEWPOINT]Lobbyists form the ties that bindIn January 1998, a strange article was published in the Hankyoreh daily newspaper. The article said three persons, who had no previous relationship with the political administration, were frequenting then-president-elect Kim Dae-jung’s house and office.
The three figures were Kim Jae-rok, the heavyweight financial broker currently under investigation; Choi Kyu-sun, who was arrested during the Kim Dae-jung administration, and a Korean Japanese, a Mr. Park. One Kim Dae-jung camp insider leaked the information by saying, “These people are likely to cause big trouble.”
They had won favors from the former president with their unique ability to plan and for having creative ideas that other political figures didn’t have.
But they were delivered a hard blow in less than a year, following concerns about their unconventional behavior and jealousy. Mr. Choi was banished to the United States and Mr. Park to Japan. But Mr. Choi returned home soon with the help of Kwon Roh-gap, then head of the Kim Dae-jung camp. Kwon appeared as the main actor of the “Choi Kyu-sun lobbying scandal.” Kim Jae-rok chose to work at a foreign consulting company.
Mr. Kim, Mr. Choi and the legal community broker Yoon Sang-lim have something in common. They have the know-how to form and manage a vast network of personal ties. They were not at a mere level of giving bribes and making requests. They found out and provided what their targets needed or wished for most, such as information, promotion or positions.
A lobbyist cannot become influential just by doing favors for the targets. The above lobbyists stretched their hands even toward the chauffeurs or housekeepers of their targets.
Taking care of the anniversaries and birthdays of their targets’ wives was the basic thing to do. When their children entered higher levels of education, they presented them with laptop computers. When those children went abroad to study, they made arrangements to get them scholarships and helped them find jobs. Don’t Koreans have a weak spot regarding their children? They also invest with a long-term view.
When ministers retired from their positions and were likely to feel lonely, the lobbyists invited the dignitaries and their spouses on golf tours and accompanied them on trips abroad. Then, the lobbyists became “indispensable” for politicians, government officials, prosecutors and police officers.
The problem is that once those ties are built, it is hard to get away from them. When they have close relationships with the targets, the lobbyists behave obediently, but when their targets try to distance themselves, they threaten to expose weak points of the behind-the-scene transactions.
So, they build up closer ties with each other and then collapse together in the end.
We can easily encounter people who play the role of brokers to people who are in power, including the political community, the prosecution, the police and the National Tax Service, although there are differences in scale. They know well that ties with politicians can work miracles. Other people play the similar role of government brokers. They have the characteristics in common that they generally have a vast network of human relations and maintain close relations with chief executives or people in power.
In Korean society where lobbying is illegal, a lobbyist equals a broker who is good at making an under-the-table deal. The Constitutional Court’s decision last November clearly shows our society’s view of lobbying. The decision said, “It is valid to punish mediation and bribery in light of the fact that in our history, lobbying has been used for unreasonable decision-making.”
In the United States too, President George W. Bush is in trouble because of the scandal involving Jack Abramoff, a top Republican lobbyist. He arranged luxurious golf trips abroad and enabled heads of foreign countries to meet President Bush. He displayed his close relations with Mr. Bush by exhibiting his photos taken with the president on the desk in his office. He does not seem to be different from the Korean lobbyists. In this regard, it is fortunate that the present administration and the press do not get along well. Thanks to this unfriendly relationship, brokers are having a hard time in their attempt to influence the political circles.
But those in power should be careful if they are accustomed to eating top-class dishes in first-class hotels and playing golf. Without their knowing it, a new broker with a familiar face might approach them. I say this because there is such a sign these days.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo