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Lawmakers raised W47b in political funds in 2010

Ruling and opposition lawmakers raised a total of 47.7 billion won ($44 million) in political donations last year with the ruling party drawing more funds than the competition, the election watchdog said Monday.

While the total amount increased by 16 percent from 41.1 billion won in 2009, it came short of the 63.4 billion won collected in 2008 when a nationwide general election was held, according to a 2010 funding disclosure report released by the National Election Commission.

Local elections were held in June last year to pick a total of 3,991 elected officials, including provincial governors, mayors, councilors and education chiefs.

Korea’s political funding law prohibits a company or an organization from making donations to politicians or their aid association, though it allows individuals to donate up to 100,000 won at a time for tax breaks with an annual ceiling of 5 million won.

The 2004 funding law, crafted by incumbent Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, was aimed at improving transparency in political funding that is susceptible to corruption and influence trading for favorable legislation moves.

On average, lawmakers raised 156 million won each, which is about half of the upper cap of 300 million won per legislator, the report said.

Among the top 20 fund-raisers were 16 from the ruling Grand National Party and four from the main opposition Democratic Party. That shows contributors are more willing to donate to the major political parties, which control 171 and 86 seats of the unicameral parliament, respectively.

Rep. Kang Gi-jung of the DP collected the largest contributions with 324 million won in 2010, closely trailed by Rep. Park Geun-hye of the GNP with 323 million won. Park is a front-runner for next year’s presidential race and former head of the ruling party.

The report also revealed that some legislative leaders have accepted contributions from chiefs of corporations and organizations who have an interest in actions taken by the legislature.

For example, several legislators of a parliament committee in charge of land and transport affairs received 5 million won in contributions, the annual limit, from local transportation companies. Those who serve on the health and welfare committee raised money from pharmaceutical and medical firms, according to the report.

Despite the June 2 elections and local economy picking up, fund-raising did not pick up pace last year, which election officials see as aftereffects of a political fund scandal that led to the indictment of six lawmakers.

The legislators were charged with receiving illegal political funds from an association of private security guards, known as “Cheongmok,” in return for helping pass a bill on expanding their benefits in 2008.

“The raising accomplishments can be seen as an average, compared to 2006 when local elections were held,” Choi Kwang-shik, an NEC official, said. “It may have been affected by decreased small contributions that are usually made at the end of the year to get tax deductions” in the wake of the prosecutors’ probe on lobbying scandals. 

(Yonhap News)