The politics of money

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The politics of money

Our lawmakers’ efforts to fill their bankbooks with political donations went too far. After raising their salaries by a whopping 5.1 percent last year, they are now enjoying such perks as family allowances and school expenses for their children from this year. On March 4, a standing committee of the National Assembly passed a revised bill on political fund-raising that allows them to receive donations from corporate entities and civil groups as well as individuals.

On Monday, the National Election Commission came up with its own version of a bill which, if passed, would eliminate all restrictions involving fund-raising activities. That invited a strong backlash from the media and public who said the commission is seeking favor with the legislators who oversee and audit it.

The revised bill is retrogressive as it would let the lawmakers receive any kind of money from companies and resurrect political action committees, a primary vehicle for collecting donations. The bill would reverse the current political fund-raising law, which was enacted in 2004 by current Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, then a Grand National Party lawmaker. He wanted to prohibit legislators from taking black money from interest groups and the slogan he used was “clean politics.” The revision is aimed at incapacitating his reforms.

Legislators have persistently complained about their “money drought.” But voters have a very different attitude toward their representatives’ plight. The reason for their displeasure is simple: The lawmakers’ performances have fallen well short of voters’ expectations. They have not only failed to address their constituents’ problems, but have also failed to hold the executive branch in check.

They haven’t shown a willingness to change the political culture of mudslinging. Yet, with the next general election coming in about a year, they first want to find ways to fill their pockets with dirty money. Against this backdrop, who would agree to such an idea?

A big problem with laws involving politics is that the lawmakers are major stakeholders. Therefore, voters should always closely watch what they are doing. That’s their duty.

The NEC, meanwhile, has a responsibility mandated by the Constitution and it should be reshaping the culture of fund-raising toward transparency and cleanliness. And yes, politicians, too, must do their best to improve our political culture. If they don’t, they may find themselves out of a job next year.
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