Wu Shu-chen Gives the Political Donation Law a Slap in the Face
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 24, 2009
The Political Donation Law has been stalled in the Legislative Yuan for years. Now, finally, the Control Yuan has made public a list of political contributors. This has subjected the campaign contributions of corporate contributors to Blue and Green political parties and presidential candidates to the bright glare of the sun. Ironically, within 24 hours, Wu Shu-chen made a second revelation. She reportedly blew the whistle on 20 major contributors, who made three billion in campaign contributions. More importantly, Wu Shu-chen's hidden books were never reported to the Control Yuan, making clear her contempt for the law. For all intents and purposes, she gave the Political Donation Law a hard slap in the face.
In fact, ever since Chen's secret overseas money-laundering accounts were revealed last August 14, Chen Shui-bian has used campaign contributions to shield himself from prosecution. From the beginning he has insisted that money transferred overseas was leftover campaign contributions. In response to the Lungtan Corruption scandal, Chen Shui-bian referred to the money he received as "campaign contributions," and disowned all responsibility for it. A law ostensibly intended to make campaign contributions transparent, has become a tool for corruption. Where did our Political Donation Law go wrong?
Since the nineties, in pace with a raised political consciousness, the public has expressed its distaste for money politics. But apart from the Public Servant Property Declaration Act, other bills such as the Sunshine Law have failed to make it through the legislature. It was only in 2004, during President Chen Shui-bian's re-election campaign, that suspicions arose regarding Chen Yu-hao's campaign contributions to Chen Shui-bian. Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen flatly denied, again and again, that they had taken any money from Chen Yu-hao. Chen Shui-bian gave orders that Chen faction members of the Legislative Yuan sponsor a "stringent" Political Donation Law. Wu Shu-chen recently confessed to receiving billions in campaign contributions from conglomerates, many following Chen's "re-election" in 2004. Obviously, Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen never gave the Political Donation Law a second thought. Worse, they turned the Political Donation Law into a fig leaf to cover the Chen family's criminal activities.
Of course, the bosses of financial conglomerates in doubt about asking prices began delivering hundreds of millions to the president's official residence. They even deposited money in Chen's overseas accounts. To call these "campaign contributions" is more than a little far-fetched. Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen, in an attempt to paint others as black as himself, argued that these financial conglomerates gave even more to the KMT, but prosecutors have chosen to prosecute only them! What can we blame, but a Political Donation Law that has great ambitions but little ability.
Republic of China election campaigns, particularly presidential campaigns, are extremely expensive. The Political Donation Law stipulates that individuals may not contribute more than 100,000 NT in any given year. Profit-making enterprises may not contribute more than one million NT. Legislators did not set such stringent standards out of political idealism. In fact the complete lack of stringent standards was one of the preconditions for passage of the Political Donation Law.
In 1974 the United States "Federal Election Campaign Law" established a "Federal Election Commission." Commission members have professional staff and the right to investigate. Only that enables it to investigate false declarations. By contrast, look at our own Political Donation Law. The Control Yuan is charged with investigating campaign contributions. Control Yuan members have the right to investigate. But more than a few public officials have admitted both publicly and privately that the amount they declared is less than half of what they received. But has the Control Yuan investigated or prosecuted a single one of these?
And even if the Control Yuan decided to get tough, what tools does it have at hand? False declarations of campaign contributions by dishonest politicians and political parties, is punishable by a maximum of fine of 1,000,000 NT, approximately 30,000 US. Such a slap on the wrist provides politicians with a reason to lie, thereby breaking the law. Dlections are hotly contested on Taiwan. Therefore politicians have few scruples about fund-raising. Only then can they have access to immense political and economic benefits. After all, no one makes a serious effort to check. And in the event one is unlucky enough to be found out, the fine is a mere 1,000,000 NT. Politicians, know how to read a balance sheet, and have little trouble deciding which way to go.
Politicians are highly adaptable creatures. No matter how airtight the law might be, they will find loopholes, they will find a backdoor. In the painful aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the US decided to pass the "Federal Election Campaign Law." As we can see from this brief history, campaign reform is useless. The law is constantly rewritten. Election expenses increase geometrically. Obama's fund-raising has once again broken previous records.
Therefore, experts who have studied campaign contributions say the key to reform is transparency. Setting ultra-high standards is not as good as conceding that modest campaign contributions are a necessary evil, and adopting more realistic contribution limits. But false declarations must be severely punished. The Political Donation Law must no longer be a hypocritical law, a way for Ah-Bian and Ah-Chen to get off scot-free. These are factors the legislators amending the law must consider.