Cleaning up campaign financing

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Cleaning up campaign financing

Campaign financing and political fund-raising are in urgent need of reform in the wake of allegations that nominations for party posts were effectively sold by members of the Saenuri Party under the pretense of accepting political donations. Representative Hyun Young-hee is accused of paying generous donations in return for a privileged seat based on the system of proportional representation during the April 11 legislatives elections.

The ruling party is now working on a new set of guidelines for campaign financing in the interest of greater transparency, ahead of talks with the opposition.

The problem with the current system of donations is that it is riddled with loopholes and restrictions that all but invite illegal contributions. Under the law, companies and groups cannot give money to individuals or political parties, which leads many to circumvent this by using the names of executives or board members. This caused the previous legislature to become embroiled in a lawsuit after a police security group had its members donate money to lawmakers of a standing committee who were overseeing a reform bill that was in the group’s interest. The law also puts a cap on how much individual donors can submit.

Hyun dished out money to loyalists of Park Geun-hye who headed the emergency council of the ruling party as well as its campaign camp, and lawmakers of Busan constituencies in the form of donations by using the names of their acquaintances. Such donations usually come with strings attached, such as the expectation of illegal favors. But the current law allows these to be made fairly easily using different people’s names. Some lawmakers even contribute money to political heavyweights, which runs counter to the original purpose of the donation system.

Book launches are another form of illegitimate yet widespread political donation as guests often hand over envelopes stuffed with cash to the author-slash-politician. As these remain secret, celebrity politicians can receive large sums without raising suspicion.

The Saenuri Party is considering proposing that the National Election Commission be the sole recipient of donations, and that it dole out the funds to lawmakers. Another measure would be to use government funds to run campaigns and finance parties. The election watchdog could act as a middleman to rein in any abuse of the system.

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