Today KMT Vice Presidential candidate Jennifer Wang 王如玄 held a press conference to answer questions about her investments in military housing. The KMT’s new campaign manager, Jason Hu, insisted that she needed to take this problem seriously. However, my immediate reaction is that she has probably made things worse. In addition to admitting that she bought 12 units, not the 5 she previously stated, there were lots of places left for skeptics to question. Instead of providing full details on each transaction, she merely provided her annual wealth reports to the Control Yuan. Unfortunately, the “Sunshine Law” has been defanged so much that these reports barely reveal anything. They certainly do not list purchase or sale prices, so we have to take Wang’s word on how much profit she made on each transaction. Unfortunately for her, many people are no longer taking her word for anything. The talk shows are awash in people speculating about all the missing details.
However, the part of her statement that I want to focus on is about the principles, not the details. To me, this part might be more disturbing. Wang stated the following:
“[Over a decade ago,] I was a lawyer and, in the course of my duties, I met a real estate agent who raised the prospect of this type of investment. At the time, I felt that there was no legal problem, so I made several investments with the real estate agent. However, today after all this controversy, I have looked in detail at the underlying policy goals of the laws, and, ethically, I have let many people down. Actually, I am disappointed in myself. Truthfully speaking, I have failed this ethical test. In addition to apologizing for the controversies caused, after looking in depth at the relevant policy goals, I deeply apologize for buying military residences, an action that is not consistent with the ethical standards that people demand from a vice presidential candidate.”
Thus, according to Wang’s own statement, someone pitched her an idea and she implemented that idea without ever stopping to think about ethics. This is extremely troubling, since the essence of a politician’s job is precisely to make value judgments. Bureaucrats ask, “Can we?” Politicians ask, “Should we?” Voters choose politicians precisely to make subjective decisions that are in line with mainstream values. If Wang is not the kind of person in the habit of asking about whether something is good or bad, she probably should get out of politics.
Of course, I don’t believe for a minute that Wang has suddenly, after looking into the policy goals of military housing laws for the first time, discovered that she made an enormous ethical mistake. (I also don’t believe the bosses of Tinghsin and Volkswagen were sincerely sorry about their decisions. I believe they were sorry they got caught and sorry that the exposure of their misdeeds caused financial repercussions.) She knew exactly how the laws were written and how to exploit the loopholes. Am I supposed to believe that she is so oblivious that she never thought about the reason the five year lockout period existed? She wasn’t sorry a week ago, and she didn’t see any ethical problems. No, what happened is that lots of KMT voters became furious when they learned of her investments. It’s not just that she violated the spirit of the law; it’s also that many of them wonder if she exploited unsuspecting deep blue constituents. Deep blue voters think she has failed an ethical test, so she has to appease them lest they stay at home or cast their votes for one of the other parties in the blue camp. Maybe this (and her donation to charity) will satisfy them. However, I suspect this story won’t go away. Too many loose ends remain unaccounted for.
[Aside: Wang is relying heavily on her financial reports to the Control Yuan, even saying that if any errors were found she would be willing to accept all legal responsibility. Sounds great, doesn’t it. The problem is that there are no legal penalties for failing to report. By law, if someone points out an error in a report to the Control Yuan, the official has 30 days to correct the error. If the error is corrected within 30 days, there is no penalty. This is why politicians routinely report that they have no bank accounts, securities, or real estate. For example, Soong’s VP candidate Hsu Hsin-ying 徐欣瑩 (who sure seems to have a lot of financial power at her disposal) reported that only she owns a Toyota Corolla. The Sunshine Law is so useless now that It is up to the general public to point out specifically what she is hiding, and then she can simply fill in that item. So when Wang says she will face all legal responsibility, it sounds to me like a weasely lawyer’s statement designed to deceive the listener.]