Strange book publishing eventsPoliticians often have been accused of using book publishing ceremonies as a means to collect untraceable and non-taxable political funds. The events were suspected of being an illicit lobbying channel for interest groups, which turned out to be true. Prosecutors discovered that members of an association of kindergarten principals donated 30 million won ($29,400) to Rep. Shin Hak-yong of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy during his book publishing event in September last year. The money is suspected of having been given to persuade the lawmaker to use his influence to ease regulations on preschool and kindergarten management. Shin motioned a bill on the subject five months before the publishing ceremony. He kept the money in cash in a bank safe.
Cash donations at book events are not required to be reported to authorities under the political fund law. Congratulatory or consolation donations also do not need to be reported. Since funerals or weddings cannot be faked, publishing events can serve many purposes for the convenience of politicians. They can hold public events if they write a book. It is a kind of legal fundraising ceremony. Regardless of their status, politicians write books or have books written for them so that they can hold fundraising events. Many also use them for the dual purpose of self-promotion while raising funds for a campaign.
Guests to the events are usually people from institutions, companies and industries that are connected with the lawmakers’ legislative activities and committee membership. They slip in envelopes to benefit their future relationship or to ask for outright favors, as was the case with Shin. In no other country are book launches used to collect dubious funds for politicians.
Ruling and opposition party members have promised to clean up suspicious acts at book ceremonies as a part of their self-reform campaign. But we have seen little action. The Saenuri Party said in January that it will limit the number of guests and the frequency of events held by its members. The NPAD in February motioned a special law with stricter ethical codes for lawmakers, such as reporting all expenses and income to the election commission. But again no progress has been made.
If prosecutors search the bank safes of all lawmakers, they may well find cash bundles similar to Shin’s. Many of them could have come from book launches. The legislature must pass the ethics law soon and clean up publishing ceremonies.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 19, 30