Sun, Apr 06, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Election funding thrown into the media spotlight

REVELATIONS Recent reports about politcal slush funds have caused some to question the secrecy surrounding campaign financing


Recent media exposure of the flow of political contributions for former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) 1996 presidential election campaign has piqued curiosity about similar slush funds for the three top contenders in the 2000 presidential race.

Unconfirmed media reports said that Liu Tai-ying (劉泰英), an economist-turned-banker who has been detained since Feb. 10 pending an investigation into a snowballing land development scandal, has told investigators that Lee had commissioned him to purchase NT$290 million-worth of state bonds.

According to the reports, the money was the balance of political contributions for Lee's 1996 presidential bid. As Taiwan has yet to enact a law to regulate political donations to individual politicians, Lee might not be held accountable for the flow of his political contributions.

Campaign contributions are a closely guarded secret and the use of such funds has consistently been shrouded in mystery. Public discussion of the funds has been taboo for all major parties. Of course, this secrecy makes it easy for individual politicians to manipulate the funds for personal gain.

Apart from the candidates themselves and their few aides, nobody has a clear picture of their revenues and expenditures during an election campaign.

For the three front runners in the last presidential election three years ago -- President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) -- only the election subsidies of NT$30 per ballot from the government were transparent.

Chen who won the presidency by garnering 4.97 million ballots, received some NT$150 million in subsidies from the Central Election Commission. He donated one-third of these funds to DPP headquarters and about NT$60 million was used to repay debts amassed from campaign activities. The remainder was used to set up the Ketagalan Institute.

Soong, who ran as an independent, received about NT$140 million in subsidies, as he captured 4.66 million ballots. Soong used some of this money to repay debts spent on campaign programs and loaned the rest to the PFP.

Lien received more than NT$87 million in subsidies for the 2.9 million votes he secured. He donated NT$20 million to a foundation headed by UNI-President Group Chairman Kao Ching-yuan (高清愿) and the rest was donated to the KMT.

In the run-up to the 2000 presidential election, Lien faced little financial pressure, as the KMT was still in power and had huge assets. Lien's campaign headquarters had reportedly used up almost all of its funds two or three weeks prior to the vote.

Some people said after the election that the KMT spent an estimated NT$7 billion on Lien's failed presidential bid.

Unlike the KMT, the DPP has never operated any businesses and was often troubled by financial shortages before it came to power. In the early stage of the campaign, few people bet on Chen's victory and the DPP thus had a hard time raising campaign funds. Chen had to rely on small contributions from long-term DPP supporters

In the later stages of the campaign, Chen's support rates in public opinion polls rose steadily and some business groups became more willing to donate funds.

As for Soong, PFP officials said that he faced few financial problems in the initial stages of the campaign, as he enjoyed the highest support rate.

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