A shameful portrait of politiciansThe National Assembly’s Public Administration and Security Committee recently passed a revised bill on political fund-raising that underscores how hypocritical and shameless politicians can be when it comes to money. Although unannounced and unscheduled, the bill was quickly rubber-stamped in a rare show of bipartisanship.
Both the procedure and content of the bill raise serious questions about the morality of our legislators. The law was revised in three areas - all rewritten to help legislators raise funds more easily. First, the cap on donors was lifted, allowing politicians to get hand-outs from corporations and interest groups. Currently, they can only get donations from individuals. Second, a restriction on funds for extra activities has been lifted, which will allow them to receive donations unrelated to their legislative jurisdiction and official work - and that amounts to political lobbying. Third, the existing regulation on lobbying was also axed so that politicians can get funds in any form.
The current political fund-raising law was initiated by Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who as a Grand National Party representative in 2004 campaigned for the legislation. The law banned donations from large corporations and instead encouraged individual donations in order to boost voter interest.
The law was an act of self-discipline that allowed politicians to proclaim an end to the good old days. This about-face, however, could bring the money game back into politics because the revised law is more or less an invitation to lobbying from enterprises and interest groups. And the timing of the pending revision could not be more self-serving. Despite muffled calls to revise the law, politicians have let the revision process drag on for fear of negative public opinion.
Now, the bill has been passed at a time when six lawmakers indicted for receiving illegal political funds are awaiting a ruling from the court. The indicted lawmakers will go free if the law is passed because there will be no legal basis for their prosecution.
The ruling and opposition parties acted in quick agreement when it came to this piece of legislation, which could fatten their pockets and free colleagues involved in slush fund scandals. In essence, they have thrown their slogans about a “fair society” and political reform out the window. The bill must still pass two other committees before being submitted to the full National Assembly for a vote. It is not too late for them to undo what they got wrong.