Prudent political donations
The National Assembly’s special committee on political reform will be launched at the start of the parliament’s extraordinary session in April. The committee will target all manner of law reforms related to elections, political funding and political parties. Key issues such as reviving local political party chapters are already being discussed. Though it is necessary to revise these laws and change the current political climate, it is more important for the committee to act with clarity of direction and principles.
Back in 2004, then-Grand National Party lawmaker Oh Se-hoon, the interim Seoul mayor, was praised for proposed law revisions aimed at reducing the number of bribery cases involving politicians. Critics, however, said Oh’s plan was unrealistic as it decreased the number of channels political donations could go through without actually reducing the number of bribery cases. The Grand National Party in particular was severely criticized when it was discovered that GNP leaders had accepted illegal funds from conglomerates on the eve of the presidential election. In a democratic society, political donations are essential. But the focus should be on increasing their transparency, not limiting the channels through which they can go. After Oh’s revision took effect, conglomerates and organizations were banned from making donations. Support associations at party headquarters and local party offices and chapters were abolished to prevent politicians from getting financial backing from their parties. Since then, donations can only come from individuals.
But still there are irregularities. Conglomerates break up political donations, distributing them in small portions under an executive’s name. The bigger problem is the proliferation of illegal and secret political donations, and many people say there are now not enough legal channels for the funds to go through.
There is a series of bribery scandals involving Taekwang Industrial Chairman Park Yeon-cha, who indiscriminately disseminated illegal political funds immediately after the passage of the Oh Se-hoon revision bill in 2005.
Last December, Kim Min-seok, a senior Democratic Party leader, was indicted on charges of receiving illegal political donations. Kim must have had a hard time raising funds when he ran for the party’s supreme council after he failed to win an Assembly seat.
Politicians should take responsibility for their actions, but we cannot forget that it was Oh’s law revision that drove so many politicians to cross the line and accept illegal donations.
With this new revision, the problems with the Oh Se-hoon bill should be corrected and transparency of donations increased. We need to be mindful so that we don’t repeat past mistakes.