CCW calls for prompt amendment to Political Donations Act; proposes four key amendments
It has been over fifteen years since the last comprehensive revision of the “Political Donations Act” in Taiwan, and there are many legal loopholes that prevent the public from accurately tracking the flow of political donations. Citizen Congress Watch (CCW) has put forth four key areas for legislative amendments, including bringing political donations for party primaries under regulation, adding the leading person of a recall petition and the person being recalled to the scope, preventing foreign hostile forces from using political donations to interfere in elections, and ensuring timely public disclosure of large-scale political donations for public scrutiny.
According to the current provisions, prospective candidates are required to declare their political donations within three months after the election day, and the authority responsible for receiving the declarations should compile the financial reports within six months after the deadline and make them available to the public online. However, it takes up to nine months after the election for citizens to access information on the status of political donations. This situation hinders voters from obtaining sufficient information before casting their votes, resulting in information asymmetry and indirectly amplifying the influence of vested interests on Taiwanese politics.
Political Donations Act Unamended for Over Fifteen Years! Citizen Congress Watch Presents Four Key Points for Amendment
It has been over fifteen years since the last comprehensive revision of the “Political Donations Act”. After careful examination of the proposals regarding the “Political Donations Act” made by members of the Legislative Yuan during the tenth term, CCW discovered that many of these proposals are still pending in committees. With the upcoming presidential and legislative elections next year, the amendment of the “Political Donations Act” seems to be stagnant in the Legislative Yuan. From the proposals put forth by members of various parties in recent years, CCW has identified four major directions for amendment:
First, the inclusion of political donations for party primary elections under regulation:
Starting this year, party primary elections are taking place extensively, consuming substantial manpower and resources. In certain constituencies, primary elections have become equivalent to general elections due to the advantage of specific political camps in power. Some candidates have already received substantial political donations during the primary election phase, making it difficult for candidates from smaller parties who are willing to participate in public service to compete fairly. Taking the 2018 Tainan mayoral primary election as an example, the declared expenses of the four Pain-Green camp candidates ranged from 15 to 30 million NTD. Such amounts for primary elections exceed the total expenditures of actual elections in other counties and cities. From the perspective of public interest, CCW urges legislators to include primary elections within the scope of the “Political Donations Act” to supervise these opaque and sizable sources of funding.
Second, the addition of leading persons of recall petitions and the individuals being recalled:
With the rise of civic awareness in recent years, the number of cases where people express their opinions through recall elections has been increasing. Considering that there may also be financial transactions involved in recall cases, it is necessary to incorporate them into the regulations of this act, allowing recall groups and the individuals being recalled to compete fairly. The Ministry of the Interior proposed relevant directions for amendment in 2020 and should promptly submit them to the Legislative Yuan for deliberation.
Third, preventing foreign hostile forces from using political donations to interfere in elections:
Currently, the “Political Donations Act” treats foreign countries, China, Hong Kong, Macau, and others equally. CCW reviewed the statistics on the website of the Control Yuan and found that after the passage of the "Anti-Infiltration Act" by the Legislative Yuan in 2020, there were a total of 56 cases of violations of Article 7, Sections 1, and 7-9 of the “Political Donations Act” involving individuals or corporate entities from foreign countries, mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. Out of these cases, 50 were related to foreign regions, and 6 were related to Hong Kong and Macau. However, what is shocking is that not a single Chinese company or individual has been found to violate the provisions of the “Political Donations Act” in these penal cases. Particularly in recent years, foreign hostile forces have been continuously engaging in various forms of cognitive warfare to sow discord and division, interfering in our country's democratic elections. This demonstrates the inadequate regulatory density of the current legislation, allowing China to evade the Political Donations Act's involvement in democratic elections. CCW urges relevant authorities to promptly propose solutions to address the aforementioned issues and strengthen democratic resilience.
Fourth, timely public disclosure of large-scale political donations and expenditures:
Currently, according to Article 21 of the “Political Donations Act”, voters have to wait for up to nine months to see the income and expenses of candidates' political donations. In response to proposals from the public, CCW believes that candidates' significant political donation income and expenses should be disclosed before the election, providing reference for voters and deepening the mechanism of civic oversight.
CCW urges the Legislative Yuan to promptly send the “Political Donations Act” to committee deliberation during the remaining eighth session to avoid the principle of discontinuity due to the end of the term, which could result in a stagnation of progress in the related amendments.
Disclose Before the Election, No Regrets After!
Taking the example of last year's 2022 local elections, which occurred half a year ago, the public still cannot find out the declaration status of political donations for various legislative candidates, nor can they determine which candidates may be influenced by specific interest groups or developers. In May of this year, an unfortunate incident occurred when a crane arm from the “Hsin Fu Fa”(興富發) construction site fell onto the railway tracks, resulting in a train collision that caused one death and 14 injuries. This incident sparked discussions in society regarding safety regulations in the construction industry. Upon reviewing the public information provided by the Control Yuan, it was discovered that “Hsin Fu Fa”(興富發) Construction had long been relying on political donations to candidates from both the pan-blue and pan-green camps to ensure that any industrial accidents were downplayed. However, currently, Taiwanese citizens are unable to grasp the trends of significant political donations made by corporations or developers before the elections.
Referring to the system of political donations in the United States, any single donation exceeding $1,000 must be reported within 20 days, and the government is required to disclose the information publicly online within 48 hours of receiving the report. In comparison to the provisions of our “Political Donations Act”, which allow citizens to inquire about the declaration status of political donations no earlier than nine months after the election, the U.S. system allows voters to know the sources of candidates' political donations before the election and question donations that may raise controversies, thereby enhancing public trust in election fairness. Furthermore, in the United States, any donation exceeding $50,000 must be reported electronically, enabling the possibility of real-time public disclosure of information. This is worth considering for government agencies in our country.
Calling for Candidates to Voluntarily Disclose their Income and Expenditures during the Campaign Period! Control Yuan Should Establish a Pre-election Voluntary Disclosure Platform
Since the implementation of the "Political Donations Act" until the 2020 presidential election, a period of sixteen years, the total amount of political donations declared has exceeded 33.2 billion NTD, with individual donations accounting for over half, while the rest comes from profit-seeking enterprises, political parties, and anonymous donations. The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics includes campaign expenses in the private consumption component of Taiwan's GDP, and such substantial amounts can even impact the annual economic growth rate. However, it is difficult to verify the related resources and manpower provided by candidates' families and friends as "free gifts." The public can only witness the overwhelming presence of billboards, television, and online advertisements during each election, feeling the massive flow of funds. Television ads cost around 10,000 NTD per second, and the expenses involved in party representatives appearing on political talk shows are also significant. The ruling and opposition parties should amend the law to require the disclosure of expenditures exceeding 100,000NTD within two weeks. Meanwhile, in the absence of comprehensive regulations, CCW actively urges candidates to voluntarily disclose income exceeding 100,000 NTD and expenditures exceeding 50,000 NTD before the election for the reference of voters.
Understanding the sources of candidates' campaign donations before the election can serve as a basis for voting decisions, reducing the influence of vested interests on candidates and promoting a healthier democratic ecosystem. Additionally, for the Control Yuan, this can reduce the manpower required to process declaration documents and provide a legal basis for handling issues related to public disclosure. Public oversight is an essential mechanism for ensuring the legitimacy and effectiveness of government work, and a transparent political donation system can ensure that the public has full participation and supervision rights over public policies, facilitating Taiwan's progress towards a truly open government.
Transparent Politics: Bureaucratic Agencies Should Confront Rather Than Evade!
The transparency of political donations is a crucial element in maintaining our democratic politics, as it allows improper influence peddling to disappear from Taiwan's political arena through public oversight. Although Taiwan's "Political Donations Act" has gradually become more transparent over the past nineteen years, there is still a long way to go before fully revealing the complete picture of the flow of political donations. In light of this, prior to the 2018 local elections, then-Deputy Minister of the Ministry of the Interior, Chen Chung-yan(陳宗彥), acknowledged the need to amend the "Political Donations Act". The Ministry of the Interior is the legal supervisory agency, while the Control Yuan is the operational supervisory agency.CCW believes that both agencies have a responsibility to exchange views and establish a single window to ensure that citizens can fully understand the flow of political donations.
Furthermore, in the face of slow action by government agencies, the power of civil society to supervise is even more necessary to provide the impetus for progress. Mr. Ronny Wang, the initiator of the g0v Open Political Donations project, proposed the digitization of political donations in 2014. At that time, the Control Yuan was quite conservative regarding data openness, believing that reproducing political donation information publicly by civil society may be illegal. They also mentioned that the Control Yuan provides political donation information for inspection according to the law, so there is no need to publish political donations online. Three years later, the Mirror Media's Coding and Data Analysis Center team decided to relaunch the g0v project. Through long-term collaboration and advocacy with the open source community and civic organizations, the Political Donations Public Inquiry Platform of the Control Yuan was officially launched in 2019, marking the end of the civil initiative.
Past experiences have shown that promoting government information openness is a long and arduous battle, and bureaucratic concerns cannot impede the transparency of political donation information. In addition to urging the Legislative Yuan to promptly amend the Political Donations Act, we also hope that before the relevant amendments are completed, the Control Yuan should add a voluntary disclosure function to the "Political Donations Public Inquiry Platform." This would allow candidates who are willing to do so to voluntarily disclose real-time information on political donations, gradually reducing barriers for citizens to obtain political donation information before elections and achieving a more perfect democratic electoral mechanism.
Citizen Congress Watch Calls:
- Urges the relevant proposals of the Political Donations Act to be promptly sent to committee review before the eighth session of the tenth term, and to incorporate the concepts of "party primary candidates," "recall groups," and "individuals being recalled." This will ensure transparency in the flow of funds and resources during primary elections and recalls, promoting the development of a sound democratic political system.
- In response to foreign hostile forces using political donations to interfere in election outcomes, CCW calls on the relevant departments to promptly amend the law to address this issue.
- Calls the public to participate in the civil petition campaign regarding the "pre-election disclosure of significant political donations and expenditures." Before the completion of legal amendments, CCW urges the Control Yuan to add a voluntary disclosure function to the "Political Donations Public Inquiry Platform," allowing willing candidates to register and publicly disclose real-time information on political donations.