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Small Donations to Lawmakers

Posted March. 29, 2010 07:55,   


In the U.S. Democratic Party’s primary in 2008, Barack Obama raised 265 million U.S. dollars from 1.5 million people through the Internet. Among the contributors, 47 percent gave less than 200 dollars. Congress passed the McCain-Feingold Act to ban “soft money,” or funds given to political parties by companies and private organizations. Under the act, businessmen are banned from directly contributing money to political groups and ordinary citizens are allowed to give up to 2,300 dollars, or “hard money,” to individual politicians. Non-governmental organizations, however, can raise an unlimited amount of money to give to a certain candidate.

In Korea, a political fund law was revised in the run-up to the 2004 general elections to prohibit donations to politicians by companies and organizations. By contrast, individual supporters who give less than 100,000 won (88 U.S. dollars) get tax breaks. Also called the “Oh Se-hoon Act” after the outgoing Seoul mayor, the law seeks to prevent black money from business from flowing into the political circle and promote micro contributions by the people. Good intentions, however, do not always lead to good results.

The National Election Commission found that unions of six organizations under the Labor Ministry gave 30 lawmakers a combined 230 million won (202,000 dollars) by having each of 2,313 union members give 100,000 won to one such lawmaker. This means that the unions, which are prohibited from raising funds for politicians under the law, circumvented the rule by having union members donate money to individual lawmakers. The unions abused the law promoting micro contribution and rendered useless a regulation prohibiting contributions by companies and organizations.

At the end of the year, business executives visit a lawmakers’ office building in the National Assembly with a bunch of envelopes containing 100,000 won each, money that they say is collected from their employees. Last year, an e-mail sent to executives of the Korea Water Resources Corp. urged them to give 100,000 won to three ruling party lawmakers. In 2006, a company owner was prosecuted for giving about 50 million won (43,900 dollars) to a lawmaker of the then ruling Uri Party by collecting 100,000 won from each employee. More action is needed to prevent the abuse of the small donation system and advance domestic politics by enhancing the transparency of political funds.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpark@donga.com)