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Campaigns hope to net NEC reimbursements

Apr 19,2017
The state-run election watchdog doled out 42.1 billion won ($36.8 million) in campaign subsidies to six political parties on Tuesday to help them as they enter a full-fledged campaign with the May 9 election less than three weeks away.

The National Election Commission (NEC) gave the Democratic Party (DP) 12.3 billion won and the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) 11.9 billion won in funds. The People’s Party received 8.6 billion won while the Bareun Party got 6.3 billion won.

The minor progressive Justice Party received 2.7 billion won and the Saenuri Party, which was recently formed by hardcore supporters of the imprisoned former President Park Geun-hye, got 32 million won.

The amount given to each party is in proportion to the number of lawmakers it has. Only political parties that have lawmakers are entitled to campaign funds. Saenuri, which is named after the precursor of the LKP, has only one lawmaker, Cho Won-jin, who is running as its nominee.

With the allocation of the 42.1 billion won funds, the six campaign teams are going to have more room to cover various expenses ranging from paying campaigners and renting advertising vehicles to running television ads and putting up banners.

But parties with nominees struggling to gain a meaningful chunk of support are increasingly worried about their finances. Their biggest concern stems from the fear that they will fail to win at least 15 percent on Election Day - if a candidate wins 15 percent or more, his or her party can have all its campaign expenses reimbursed by the NEC.

If a candidate receives between 10 and 15 percent of the votes, a party can have half its campaign expenditure covered by state coffers. But if a party nominee garners less than 10 percent of the votes, the party receives nothing.

In the 2012 election, the Park Geun-hye campaign spent 47.9 billion won while the Moon campaign reported 48.5 billion won in campaign expenses, all of which were later covered by the NEC.

To prevent a party from squandering campaign funds by taking advantage of the recoup policy, the NEC places a ceiling of 50.9 billion won on each candidate.

For the 42.1 billion won subsidy doled out Tuesday, the six parties are not required to return the funds even if candidates drop out of the race. In the 2012 race, candidate Lee Jung-hee of the now-disbanded Unified Progressive Party withdrew her candidacy just days before the election, but only after her party was provided with 2.7 billion won by the NEC.

Lee’s party did not return the funds.The trouble is for parties that are struggling to raise candidates’ approval above 15 percent, or even 10 percent, in various polls.

In the JoongAng Ilbo poll conducted over the weekend of 2,000 adults nationwide, Hong Joon-pyo of the LKP was backed by 7.4 percent of votes, which is grim news for the party that has put its headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul, on mortgage for a 25 billion won loan to finance Hong’s campaign.

Hong contends that he will easily win more than 15 percent on election day. But signs of worry are palpable inside the former ruling party, which lost its ruling status with the removal of former President Park Geun-hye from office, as the party could find itself totally liable for campaign expenses.

Such anxiety is much worse for the Bareun Party, a spinoff from the LKP formed by lawmakers not loyal to Park, as its nominee, Yoo Seong-min, has been stuck in a scant 3 percent range.

In the latest JoongAng poll, Yoo was supported by 3.9 percent, raising skepticism even among Bareun lawmakers whether it will be beneficial for the party to have its standard-bearer run all the way. A sign of internal schism was detected when Rep. Lee Jong-koo, vice chairman of Yoo’s campaign, was reported by local media as saying Yoo should start thinking about withdrawing his candidacy before April 29, when the candidates’ names will be printed on the ballots.

Facing internal division on his underperforming bid, the former economist ruled out the possibility of bid withdrawal just because of financial constraints.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]