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July 17, 2024

[Business Diplomacy] Importance of tracking money in politics

PUBLISHED : July 08, 2024 - 16:15

UPDATED : July 08, 2024 - 16:15

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Hilary Braseth, executive director of OpenSecrets (OpenSecrets)

The United States and its capital, Washington, DC, have one of the biggest lobbying sectors in the world. Hilary Braseth, executive director of OpenSecrets, a Washington DC-based nonprofit organization specializing in tracking and publishing the money flows in politics, says transparency is integral to lobbying.

“In the US, the case for making lobbying legal I believe, or some form of it legal, was on the basis of our Constitution, which some (court rulings) believe that (it’s) the First Amendment: the right to free speech,” said Braseth in a recent video interview with The Korea Herald.

“Some version of that is the right to petition the government and the money or the ability to lobby on behalf of an issue you care about is protected by the First Amendment… If we’re going to allow the right to petition in the form of money, then we need to have provisions around disclosure," she argued.

She said that the American public has the right to know who is petitioning the government on behalf of a certain issue for the sake of all people being able to have transparency and awareness around influences or potential influences on government representatives and policy.

“That disclosure is critical because at least it creates a legal statute that if an undisclosed activity is happening, there’s an accountability mechanism to make sure that there isn’t undue corruption occurring in government,” said Braseth.

She pointed out that such transparency allows citizen groups, organizations and the public to have legal backing to ensure that companies do not potentially have an out-sized voice.

“Now one could argue that companies do have an outsized voice because they have a lot more resources than the average citizen,” she added.

“All that being said though, at minimum, it’s being transparent and any activity that falls outside of those legal boundaries that have been set give that accountability mechanism to be able to make sure that undisclosed activity is punishable," she said.

Asked about Korea having no lobbying-related laws and experiencing reported bribery cases at times, the OpenSecrets leader questioned the public’s level of confidence in politics.

“I’ve lived in countries where it’s kind of a similar case and the result is that you have to ask what level of trust can exist in a place where there isn’t that level of transparency,” she said.

According to OpenSecrets’ data, South Korea, including its government and companies, is ranked No. 3 on the list of biggest lobbying countries in the US, as they have spent nearly $300 million between 2016 and 2024. During the same period, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, or KOTRA, has spared $121 million to become the 10th biggest foreign principal to lobby in the US.

Korea’s top conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK and LG have spent millions of dollars as they expand their businesses in the US.

“Most companies in some capacity, a policy person, a government relations person, to maintain relationships with government officials and make sure that the company’s interests are represented and thought about when (a) policy is being crafted,” said Braseth.

“Anytime there is a monetary interest, you tend to see an uptick spent by companies wanting to lobby on behalf of them to protect their commercial interest. If you look at, for example, the lobbying dollars spent on artificial intelligence, there’s been a massive increase in the number of registered lobbyists over the last five years and an exponential increase in the amount of dollars that have been spent.”

Pointing out that the US is one of the main technological playgrounds where policies can support or limit the growth of innovation, the OpenSecrets chief added that it makes sense for companies to increase the dollars they are spending on lobbying as the US government continues to talk about whether or not and how and if to regulate.

As the countdown towards the pivotal US presidential election on Nov. 5 gets closer, the OpenSecrets leader said the team is gearing up for the “busiest times” while staying focused on keeping independence and neutrality.

“I like to say (that) we share dirt of both sides of the aisle or all sides of the aisle,” she said.

“It’s critical to us as an unbiased source of data and research. We pride ourselves on that reputation and seek to furnish data that is accurate and has been anchored in facts, not opinions," she said.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com)

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