Responding to allegations of her involvement in the Taipei Twin Towers project bribery scandal, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如) admitted that she received NT$1 million (US$33,380), but said she had believed it to be a political donation, not a bribe, adding that the money had already been returned.
This type of argument seems to have become the mantra of all politicians asked to account for where funds of undisclosed origin had come from. The problem is: Is the claim that an amount of money was a political donation a sufficient defense against accusations of accepting bribes?
By political donations, one means an amount of money given with no conditions attached by a member of the electorate to a certain politician whose ideas and politics the donor approves of, and in which they place a degree of hope, to be used to help that politician get elected.
Therefore, the biggest difference between a political donation and a bribe is that the former is unconditional, while the latter is a quid pro quo arrangement, in which the giver expects something in return. There is, then, a clear distinction between the two. However, if one looks look at the current laws, there is considerable confusion about when something should be considered a political donation, and when it should be considered a bribe.
To prevent a candidate accepting bribes in the guise of political donations, the first clause of Article 7 of the Political Donations Act (政治獻金法) provides a list of 11 types of individuals, groups or profit-seeking organizations prohibited from making political donations.
The second item on this list reads as follows: “Manufacturers that have signed a government procurement contract worth a large amount or an investment contract of important public construction and are performing the contract.”
Such businesses are not allowed to give money as political donations, so that no situation arises in which they can attempt to offer bribes to secure their profit.
The trouble is that there is a loophole in this prohibition in that it does not cover any contractors in the process of preparing for a public construction project or procurement bid, nor those that have already won the bid, but are still negotiating the price.
Although Paragraph 1 of Article 9 of the same law — “Political donations may not be contributed to ask for, or in the expectation of, undue benefits” — ostensibly addresses this loophole, not only does the text lack substance, it is also undermined elsewhere in the act.
Paragraph 1, Article 29, states: “Anyone who contributes political donations infringing the provision of Paragraph 1 of Article 9 shall be fined a sum doubling the amount of the donations accepted,” emasculating the prohibition in Article 9.
Further, although the Control Yuan is ostensibly responsible for monitoring political donations, this process is subject to personnel constraints, and there is no way to make sure every single candidate is reporting donations properly. All that the Control Yuan can do is undertake random spot checks, which encourages the sort of mentality among people that makes them feel they can chance it, that they might get away with it.
One has to rely on the honesty of individual politicians, in the hope that they will report all of the donations they receive. The problem is, of course, that if the intention of the person or organization making the donation is to secure some kind of profit or benefit illegally, it is unlikely they would be foolish enough to actually report said donation. That being the case, the Political Donations Act is in practice little more than a moral code that will appeal only to people of higher moral character — the Confucian “gentleman” if you like — and is of little use for those who set less exacting moral standards for themselves.