Dodgy donationsThe chairman of the Seoul Metropolitan Council, Kim Gui-hwan, who allegedly distributed funds to his fellow municipal council members, is also suspected to have given about 5 million won ($4,900) in cash each to a number of legislators from the Grand National Party.
Making political donations is legal provided receipts are issued. However, regardless of the law, this incident undermines the system of providing lawmakers with financial support.
People could view such funding as lobbying because those who are said to have received the funds were GNP heavyweights.
Kim allegedly distributed the funds to the councilors in the offices of GNP lawmakers. Even if they are all members of the same party, this is beyond the norm and it is inappropriate.
According to the law on political donations, organizations cannot give to lawmakers, but individuals can: up to 5 million won a year per legislator. The identity of a party supporter who gives more than 3 million won must be disclosed.
Some people say 5 million won is not enough to turn a legislator, but for others it is enough for a supporter to later ask favors of a lawmaker.
We say that for the average person in Korea, 5 million won is a significant sum.
The size of donations is also an issue. The GNP attracts larger donations than the Democratic Party. Each GNP lawmaker receives political donations in excess of 3 million won from up to 20 supporters.
This is not so for the Democratic Party. Supporters tend to give small donations to the DP, reducing the lobbying possibilities.
How much is given is one aspect; breaking the law is another.
Some companies ask individuals to make the donations, since a company cannot provide money under its name. For example, if four executives in the same company donate 5 million won each, the lawmaker will get 20 million won in total, which is probably enough to exert influence.
In Korea it is common for those who wish to enter politics through local elections to give the maximum allowed donation to the lawmaker representing the district. In some cases lawmakers give millions of won to other lawmakers, depending on party dynamics, allegiance and political adherence.
The system for making political donations should be reformed so that an average voter may support a lawmaker for genuinely sincere reasons, not for personal gain.