Thursday, January 12, 2012

Putting Lipstick on a Hog

Funding Elections in Taiwan and in the U.S.

My head and heart are in two different places today, but concerned about one issue in both places: money. 

Within a few hours as many as seventeen million voters in Taiwan will begin casting their ballots in that nation’s presidential, legislative elections and local elections. The Nationalist Party (KMT) Ma Ying-jeou is the incumbent President facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from the Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai (DPP) Ing-wen. Standing on the outside is the People’s First Party candidate James Soong who could be a spoiler for the KMT. 

If Ma wins, this could be the point of no return as he would move Taiwan more into the orbit of Beijing’s control. If Tsai succeeds in becoming the first woman President she faces the extraordinarily difficult task of undoing damage Ma has done in undermining the country’s independence.

In view of his performance over the past three and a half years, how could the people of Taiwan, the majority of whom repeated polls make clear have no interest in being absorbed by China, vote Ma back into office?

The answer is not too difficult to find: money! The KMT is one of the world’s (not just Taiwan’s) wealthiest political parties.  According to the KMT-run Ministry of the Interior in July, KMT income for the year stood at $121 million (U.S.) while the DPP had a relatively paltry $20 million (U.S.). Most of the KMT funds come from investments, not political contributions.  Michael Turton, a friend in Taiwan, has done a little math on these “official” figures in “KMT wealth management” and has calculated that the KMT’s income is based on investment assets of over $2 billion (U.S.).

These, of course, are only assets the KMT has chosen to make public. One may be forgiven for concluding there is much much more that is unreported. Where did the wealth come from? First, when Mao and the Chinese Communists defeated Chiang’s Nationalists and retreated to Taiwan they brought everything of monetary value that could be transported across the Straits. Second, they came from the appropriation of Japanese colonial era assets as well as seizing Taiwanese land and businesses. During the period of White Terror (1947-1987) confiscations of Taiwanese resources continued and there was almost no difference between the ruling party KMT coffers and those of the government.
And what has the KMT done with this “impossibly wealthy” golden goose?  
“The political party once held to be the world's richest was never shy about using its money to buy support. At the peak of its power in the 1990s, Taiwan's Kuomintang (KMT) rewarded its members with stock options, lavished expensive gifts on journalists and opinion makers, and lured tens of thousands to political rallies and election booths with the promise of free food, hats, flags, jackets, and zou-lu-kun red envelopes stuffed with petty cash. The party even dipped into its own coffers to bolster flagging stock markets or to buy diplomatic support from impoverished nations.”
A recent poll shows that Taiwanese are aware of the disparity of the wealth of the KMT and everybody else and believe it to be unfair:
“More than 77 percent of respondents in a survey conducted by a polling company on behalf of the Zero Party Assets Alliance felt that the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) huge assets create unequal competition between political parties, the alliance told a press conference yesterday.”
National Taipei University department of public finance professor Huang Shih-hsin (黃世鑫) said the obvious:
“…as long as the KMT asset issue exists, normal democratic development in Taiwan is be impossible.”
If Dr. Tsai wins tomorrow it will be nothing short of a miracle, just as it was when Chen Shui-bien won in 2000 and 2004. 

I said at the outset that my head and heart were in two different places but concerned about one issue. Yesterday, I received a letter from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, expressing concern about how democracy in this country has been undermined by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on December 10, 2010 overturning a bi-partisan election reform bill allowing corporations and billionaires to spend unlimited sums of money, without disclosure, in political campaigns.

 Sanders asked what I ask:
Will the United States survive, in any significant way, as a democracy in which ordinary people can control their future? Or, will "democracy" simply become another commodity owned and controlled by billionaires and corporations in order to serve their own purposes? Today, as a result of the absurd Citizens United Supreme Court decision,  that is exactly what they’re doing:

“Karl Rove’s American Crossroads has already pledged to spend at least $240 million in the elections of 2012. The extreme right-wing billionaire Koch brothers may be spending even more. And then there is Wall Street, the oil and coal corporations, the insurance and drug companies and the military-industrial-complex with all of their money.”

“The goal of the top 1 percent is simple. They will spend as much as it takes to elect candidates who support a right-wing corporate agenda. They will spend as much as it takes to defeat those candidates who are fighting for working families. And that’s about it!”

Sanders is proposing a Constitutional amendment, the Saving American Democracy bill, to overturn Citizens United. This amendment states that:
  1. Corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as human beings.
  2. The people have the right to regulate corporations.
  3. Corporations are prohibited from making campaign contributions.
  4. Congress and states shall have the power to set reasonable limits on election spending. 
I don't know if this amendment has any chance of passing Congress or if the States will ratify it. But we've got to do something because our democracy is at stake. The same is true of the wealth of the KMT in Taiwan. 

Instead of trying to make pretty what is inherently ugly, like putting lipstick on a hog, give Taiwan real democracy. And while we are at it, let's restore democracy here in this country.

 - Milo

1 comment:

Bunti said...

Great blog Milo. I still have hope, though.