DPP drops the ball on campaign finances

By Hu Wen-chi 胡文琦  / 

Wed, May 15, 2019 - Page 8

At an April 29 news conference, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) addressed questions over campaign funding from his mayoral campaign last year.

He said that 87 percent of the money raised came from small donations and categorically denied the accusation by former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) that he had received NT$40 million (US$1.29 million) in corporate donations raised by KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義).

However, Han has also been accused of flouting rules governing campaign expenditures by exceeding the legal limit on campaign spending to the tune of NT$25 million.

A Facebook group of legal academics called the New Age Law Society (新時代法學社) conducted a review of the relevant laws and discovered that offshore funds channeled as individual donations are virtually unregulated.

Furthermore, there is no financial penalty for politicians or political parties that overspend during election campaigns. These loopholes are national security liabilities.

According to the Facebook group, offshore funds that can have an impact on Taiwan’s electoral process are those not given directly and openly to a candidate’s campaign. Most are funneled to a candidate as small, individual donations that fall below the thresholds set out in the Political Donations Act (政治獻金法), so as to avoid detection.

This type of behavior would normally be grounds for suspecting illegal money laundering, but accepting financial support from an individual is not a crime, according to the act, which means that it is not possible for prosecutors to launch an investigation based on the Money Laundering Control Act (洗錢防制法).

If national security loopholes exist, does the fault lie with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has a majority in the legislature? Or perhaps it is simply a question of negligence — politicians and civil servants have taken their eyes off the ball.

Responding to a question by New Power Party Legislator Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) about the Act on Property-Declaration by Public Servants (公職人員財產申報法), the Ministry of Justice made the shocking admission that it has never carried out checks on electoral candidates, nor has it any means of checking the veracity of declarations made by candidates.

Public officials, so often castigated in public, have perhaps become cynical in their jobs, and are unwilling to draft robust laws and regulations that could bring them trouble down the line.

Putting aside the inability or unwillingness of officials to regulate political donations from overseas entities or impose fines on candidates who exceed spending limits during elections, surely the ministry can see that modern technology allows domestic political donations to be broken up into small amounts and distributed to candidates “under the radar.”

Continuing to plod on with the existing laws and regulations is asking for trouble.

Instead of keeping up with the times and the evolving nature of technology, those in the government have shown a total lack of willingness to perform even the most basic of checks.

The DPP government is asleep at the wheel.

Hu Wen-chi is a former vice chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Culture and Communications Committee.

Translated by Edward Jones