Archive for July, 2020

Brawling and Chen Chu’s confirmation to the Control Yuan

July 22, 2020

We’ve seen several physical clashes in the legislature over the past couple weeks concerning Chen Chu’s nomination as president of the Control Yuan. As someone who has spent a lot of time over the past five years studying brawling in the Legislative Yuan, I have a few thoughts about how this episode played out.

The first thing that we need to understand is that, after over thirty years of brawling in the legislature, physical clashes are now understood by all actors as a “normal” part of the legislative process. There are informal rules governing what is allowed and what is not. The simple fact that there was pushing and shoving has long since ceased to be shocking, and it certainly does not demonstrate that democracy is dead or even highly flawed. The opposition is certainly allowed to claim majority bullying and violence and procedural flaws (hint: it always does), but this does not generally count as evidence that the result was illegitimate. In the end, if a majority of legislators are willing to stand up and support the result, that is what matters.

Brawls are not a contest of violence. They are fundamentally grounded in party politics and public opinion. The majority party wants to do something that the minority opposes. Rather than simply make a bunch of speeches that society might ignore, the minority dramatically opposes the majority by physically obstructing proceedings. Of course, if the minority physically obstructs proceedings, the majority has the option of responding by physically clearing away the disruption. After all, if they actually do have a majority of members who want to do something, the majority should eventually win out.

There are some clear, if informal rules, that govern brawls. The first is that brawls are not about violence. They are about political communication. A certain amount of violence is necessary to produce and/or overcome a procedural disruption, but the violence is not the point. The message is the point. You might need to physically disrupt normal proceedings to make that point, but you want everyone’s attention on the substantive point, not on the violence. If you escalate the violence too much, the public will focus on the violence and forget about the message. This is why excessive punching, biting, hair-pulling, kicking, and so on always backfires. The other side can simply ignore your point and call you a brutish thug. If you watch a podium occupation, what you see is a lot of pushing and jostling. You do not see anything potentially lethal or even anything that could seriously injure anyone. That is going too far, and it damages your political message. Rule 1A is that you definitely do not want any hint of inappropriate sexual contact. The opposition party puts its female legislators at the middle of the scrum, daring the majority party to touch them. The majority party generally assigns the task of removing them to its own female members. A second rule is that only legislators are allowed to participate in the brawl. No professional staff are allowed to participate in any way, and legislative aides aren’t even allowed in the chamber. Legally, the speaker has the power to call security into the chamber, but no speaker has done this since democratization. The legislators, who have special constitutional protections and each of who has some sort of democratic mandate, are the only people allowed to participate in legislative struggles. They have to figure things out on their own. A third rule is that, even in the midst of all this chaos, you have to go through all the normal procedures to pass an item. In the case of a normal law, you have to go through line by line review, voting on the name and content of each clause. This entails opening discussion on each item, allowing some discussion if the opposition wants to talk, taking a vote to close off discussion, then voting on the individual clause. If the bill has 78 clauses, you have to go through this 78 times. It’s exhausting, but by doing this the majority demonstrates it has the necessary support for each item (again and again) and legitimates the decision even in the face of vehement, physical dissent. Shortcuts have occurred in the past, in which a majority used a package vote or used other special procedures to reduce the time it would take to pass the item. However, these usually caused a bigger headache than they were worth, as the opposition could credibly scream that the majority was not respecting the established procedures and (less credibly) trampling on the rule of law. Fourth, you don’t have to actually cast your own vote. As long as you are physically in the chamber, you are allowed to have someone vote for you. When the parties are struggling the podium, it’s hardly reasonable to expect someone to give up their hard-won position to go back to their desk and vote. At any rate, there are always legislators who don’t want to get involved in the tussle. The can still contribute to their party’s effort by taking care of the voting while other people do the fighting.



One way I like to think of brawls is that they change the legislative process from one of simply numbers (ie: how many people are willing to raise their hand to vote yes) to one of both numbers and intensity (ie: how many people are willing to actively and openly struggle for the proposal and they also vote yes). This is a somewhat different threshold, since often legislators want to hide from their unpopular votes. Brawling makes is obvious to everyone which side they are on.


The fight in 2012 over the question of opening Taiwan up to American beef imports is a vivid illustration of how brawling works. At the time, the balance of the legislature was about the exact opposite of today, with the KMT enjoying a 64-40 advantage. The Ma government wanted to open up the market in order to negotiate a wider trade agreement. However, the move was generally unpopular with the public, who feared that ractopamine-laced American beef was not safe. A TVBS poll showed the public was against opening the market by a 59-31% margin. The bill was scheduled to be passed in the last week of the session, but the DPP stormed the chamber on Sunday and declared it would occupy the podium the entire week until the clock ran out.  They maintained an around the clock vigil, with most members in the chamber at any time and the others on immediate call. This was not an easy vigil. There were heavy rainstorms in the south, and many DPP members desperately wanted to go back to their districts to oversee (and claim credit for) flood relief efforts. However, they stayed in the chamber. Meanwhile, the KMT plotted its counter-attack to clear the DPP off the podium. They planned a 3:00am raid, but they never launched it. For one thing, the DPP caucus never wavered in its resolve. More importantly, a fair number of KMT legislators signaled that they did not want to participate in the fight for such an unpopular bill. We don’t know if they would have been willing to quietly and discreetly vote yes, but we do know that they did not want to go in front of TV cameras and actively struggle for a bill that the public did not like. Speaker Wang informed the KMT caucus that if they stormed the podium at 3:00am, they would have to be prepared to hold it for up to nine hours. They could not do any business until the professional staff showed up, they had to process several scheduled discussion items before the beef bill, and then they had to go through the beef bill itself. The KMT leaders concluded that their caucus simply wasn’t up to this challenge. As a result, the KMT never attempted to clear the DPP’s physical obstruction, and the DPP succeeded in blocking the bill by running out the clock.

What is great about this story is the unexpected coda. A few weeks after the DPP’s great triumph, the outside world changed. A UN committee unexpectedly passed a measure establishing a safe standard for ractopamine. Almost immediately, public opinion in Taiwan changed because the Ma administration could frame the question in a new way. With no international standard, the DPP could claim that any level of ractopamine was scary and dangerous. With the new standard, the new question was whether Taiwan should allow imports that conformed to the international standard. Asked this way, a TVBS poll found a dramatic shift. Now the public supported opening the market by a 57-31% standard. When the legislature took up the bill again in a special session a few weeks later, the DPP didn’t even try to obstruct proceedings, and the suddenly unified KMT passed the bill without any problems.

This story clearly illustrates the importance of party cohesion to brawling, and it also illustrates just how closely party cohesion is related to public opinion. When both parties understood that the public supported the minority’s position, the minority was able to block the majority. When public opinion shifted, the minority was powerless to resist the majority.


Let’s return to current Taiwan. President Tsai decided to nominate her close political ally, Chen Chu as head of the Control Yuan. The Control Yuan is a strange beast. It is Sun Yat-sen’s “genius” brainchild, based on the anti-corruption imperial censorate. However, no one has ever figured out quite what the CY is supposed to do or how it is supposed to work in a democratic context. Political parties are at the core of democratic politics, but this is supposed (?) to be a non-partisan institution that can nonetheless address highly partisan questions of exactly where the grey lines defining corruption are. Impeaching an elected official is never a technical exercise, and the CY has never managed to exercise its power in an uncontroversial way. In fact, it has been a fairly toothless and useless institution. One of the undercurrents of this controversy is that the DPP has always wanted to abolish the CY and the KMT has recently begun suggesting that it might also support that move. Of course, the KMT’s position is perhaps not sincere, since KMT true-believers would be loathe to abolish Sun Yat-sen’s legacy. As a bargaining matter, the KMT wants the DPP to not nominate anyone (so that there is no DPP-led agency to investigate their abuses) and instead spend the next few years endlessly and fruitlessly discussing abolition. The DPP’s position is that the current constitution requires them to fill the positions, but they are very open to abolition. If the KMT wants to shorten Chen Chu’s term, it can do so at any time by agreeing to abolish the CY. To put it bluntly, the DPP holds all the cards here.

Chen Chu was always going to be a controversial nominee. She is not a shrinking violet, and she has never shied away from partisan fights. This doesn’t make her much different from previous nominees. Wang Chien-hsuan, for example, was a founder of the New Party and a bitter opponent of both the DPP and Lee Teng-hui. The pattern has always been that the party in power thinks that the nominee is fair and honest, while the opposition party thinks the nominee is a partisan hack who couldn’t possibly be neutral. Nonetheless, this is who President Tsai wanted, and if she is willing to accept any political costs that Chen’s nomination might convey, she absolutely has the right to nominate Chen.


When it comes to legislative brawls, I am always more interested in the opposition party’s calculations. After all, they are the ones who decide to create a conflict. What is interesting about this particular case is that the KMT has decided to fight this fight without a clear argument aimed at the general public. Their argument is entirely aimed at KMT die-hard party loyalists.

The KMT hasn’t bothered to make an argument that Chen Chu is unfit to serve as head of the CY. They have simply asserted that idea as a fact that they expect everyone to already believe. Their big slogan has been, “reject crony appointments.” Of course, you can label every appointment as having political implications. It isn’t obvious at all (to me, at least) what makes Chen Chu’s appointment so much more obviously nefarious than every other political appointment. In American politics, we often see a person appointed as ambassador after they have donated large sums of money to the president’s campaign. Or sometimes there is a more explicit trade-off, in which someone endorses the campaign and then gets a plum cabinet position. These are perhaps a bit undesirable, but no one can quite draw the line of what is cronyism (or a spoils system). It seems obvious to the other party, until they return to power. The KMT has not bothered to explain what exactly is so cronyish about Chen Chu’s nomination. They simply keep repeating that it is an abomination, and assume that this is obvious and everyone will agree with them.

The KMT also has argued that Chen is corrupt, and this means that she is unfit to lead an anti-corruption agency. However, they have not bothered to make this case to the public. At most, they might mention the name of a specific accusation. However, I haven’t seen them go into any details of any specific case to show exactly how Chen is corrupt and how she lined her pockets or her supporter’s pockets with public money. In fact, Chen has a pretty simply response. Over the years, the KMT (and the KMT dominated Control Yuan) has repeatedly accused her of improper behavior, but they have never been able to show evidence of any improper action. All those accusations have resulted in zero impeachments, convictions, or punishments. Again, one might think that the KMT would use this nomination as an excuse to go through her record with a fine-tooth comb, presenting abuse after abuse to the general public. They haven’t done that. Instead, they have simply stated that she is unfit for this office, and they have not expected anyone to challenge this assertion.

Now, Chen Chu is not a widely reviled politician. I don’t have any recent data for her approval ratings, but I don’t generally get the sense that the general public despises her. Five years ago when she was still Kaohsiung mayor, she routinely had satisfaction ratings in the 70s. I don’t think she is still that popular, but I doubt she is as widely disliked as Han Kuo-yu, Ko Wen-je, Ker Chien-ming, Ma Ying-jeou, or Lin Chuan, just to name a few prominent but not very loved politicians. It is instructive to me that none of the blue media has put out a poll recently showing how the public feels about Chen Chu. I would expect that if the public really hated her, they would let us know.

The DPP certainly has shown any indication that they think Chen Chu’s nomination is unpopular. When the KMT broke into the chamber a couple weeks ago on Sunday evening, it announced its intention to stay there for three days. However, unlike the script in the beef brawl when the majority KMT could not clear out the disruption, this time the majority DPP reacted promptly and cleared the KMT off the podium the on Monday. The same scenario played out a few times this week, when the KMT occupied the podium, and the DPP promptly mobilized its members to push them off. DPP legislators proved themselves quite willing to stand up and physically struggle for their party’s position. The KMT caucus demonstrated a certain level of intensity of their preferences, but the DPP caucus clearly matched that level. With similar levels of intensity, the DPP’s numerical advantage easily proved decisive.


This is where this brawl is perhaps different from most other brawls of the past two decades. Since the DPP won the presidency in 2000, the two big parties have been fighting over the median voter. Brawls could usually be understood in terms of majority public opinion. The opposition party started fights when the majority party was doing something that most people didn’t like, and they drove home the message that the majority party was out of touch with mainstream values. I haven’t seen much evidence that the general public is upset with Chen Chu (or even cares very much about this nomination). The messaging certainly is not aimed at median voters. This time, the KMT seems to be obsessed with communicating with its die-hard loyalists.

The KMT has horrible polling numbers right now. KMT party ID has been bleeding since early 2019, and the past six months have been particularly awful. The KMT has been stuck in a terrible rut, watching the DPP government successfully navigate the Covid crisis. At first, the KMT tried to object to a few policies, such as how to distribute masks. However, they made a few clumsy mistakes and eventually decided it was better to shut up and not publicly oppose what was quickly becoming a tremendously popular government response. This was the right choice, but it condemned them to several months of silence, watching ineptly as government approval ratings soared. Meanwhile, the KMT’s own support kept falling, perhaps because it wasn’t providing any energetic opposition. The KMT’s numbers have gotten so bad that it has to take seriously the possibility that it could fall into third place behind Ko Wen-je’s TPP. They’re almost certainly going to get blown out in the Kaohsiung by-election, but they need to come in a clear second place. In short, the KMT desperately needed to do something, anything, to shore up its core support.

This is why the KMT’s message makes sense. The median voter might not instinctively agree that Chen Chu is unfit, horrible, corrupt, and putrid, but die-hard KMT loyalists probably do. Han Kuo-yu rose to prominence two years ago talking about how badly Kaohsiung had been governed and darkly hinting that the DPP, after twenty years in power, had piled up abuse after abuse. All those Han fans were fed a steady diet of anti-Chen rumors and innuendos, and after two years, they probably have no reason to question whether Chen is, in fact, unfit for the CY. The KMT didn’t need to put Chen on trial for this audience; they already assume she is guilty. What the KMT needed to do for this audience was simply to reassure it that they are really fighting the detested DPP government.

In a sense, this takes us back to the early 1990s. In the late 1980s, legislative brawls tended to center on big questions of democratization in which the brawlers were appealing to mainstream public opinion. However, by the early and mid-1990s, those big questions had mostly been resolved. In their place, we saw conflicts in which a 60% KMT was opposed by a 35% DPP. The presidency was not really at stake, since few people could conceive of the DPP actually winning, and the legislature had a somewhat proportional electoral system, so the DPP didn’t need to win the median voter in order to expand its power. As a result, the DPP was free to instigate a brawl if they thought they had 35-40% support. The current KMT has fallen so far that they might be in the same position. Of course, they’d love to have over 50% support in order to win power in today’s majoritarian system. However, they NEED to maintain 35% in order to maintain their position as the biggest opposition party. Their first priority is no longer to appeal to the median voter; instead, they must consolidate their base. We haven’t seen a party make this political calculation in over two decades.


Both sides made some mistakes in handling this brawl. The KMT made a big mistake by allowing some of its legislative staff to get involved in the pushing and shoving in the courtyard outside the legislature while trying to block Chen Chu from entering the chamber. Legislative aides are allowed to be in the courtyard, but they do not have any special status. The reaction was entirely predictable. Since legislative aides are not legitimate combatants, the majority mobilized security to take their information and deal with them. Also, since the KMT was unfairly using legislative aides, the DPP used police to form a human shield to escort Chen through the courtyard. The KMT screamed that the DPP was activating its police powers, a clear violation of normal practices established over the past thirty years. In fact, it was not. The speaker’s police powers (or what Americans refer to as using the Sergeant-At-Arms) refers to using security forces INSIDE the chamber. Again, access inside the chamber is strictly controlled, and security forces must be explicitly ordered by the speaker to enter and perform a specific task. Speaker Yu did not do this. Nevertheless, the sight of police escorting Chen through the courtyard to the building was not a good look for the DPP. They would have been better off mobilizing their legislators for this task.

The first time the KMT broke into the legislature and tried to barricade themselves inside, they arguably violated another unwritten rule. It is acceptable to enter and even break the glass door to do so. It is also acceptable to barricade the chamber doors with tables and chairs, and even to try to secure to barricades with ropes and chains. However, it was going to fair to put down strips with nail-like protrusions. The unwritten rules say that the majority has the right to try to retake the chamber by breaking through the barricades, and the nail-like objects could have seriously injured someone. You do not have the right to do anything potentially lethal or dangerous. They also jabbed at people trying to enter the chamber with metal poles, which was also probably an excessive level of violence. So the DPP had some legitimate complaints about excessive KMT force.

The KMT also argued that the DPP used excessive force, but their argument was a bit clumsy. The loudest voice came from Hong Meng-kai, a 37-year old male legislator. When one of the youngest, healthiest, fittest men in your caucus claims that the other side was treating him roughly, it comes off as pitiful whining. (What, were grandma and grandpa bullying you?? Poor thing.)

The KMT accused the DPP of two major procedural violations. First, they accused the DPP of faking a vote. Note, the vote in question was not for Chen Chu or any of the other nominees. It was on a procedural item the previous day. In that vote, DPP legislator Chen Ying was recorded as voting even though she was outside the chamber doing a TV interview at the time. Apparently, the DPP and/or the professional staff made a mistake and handed Chen Ying’s key card to the person in charge of voting by mistake. They were supposed to get Chang Hung-lu’s key card. As a result, Chen voted even though she was not there, while Chang was there but was not recorded as having voted. The KMT charged that this roll-call vote should be voided, and therefore the next day’s votes to approve the nominations should not have ever taken place. This was a sloppy performance by the DPP, but I don’t think it is sufficient to annul the procedural vote, much less the next day’s confirmation votes. The procedural vote passed by a healthy margin, and there is a clear story that this was a bumbling snafu rather than a nefarious attempt at vote fraud.

The KMT’s second procedural charge was that the DPP did not go through all the required steps. Specifically, nominees are usually required to come to the legislature and answer questions from any legislator before they are voted on. The KMT blocked Chen Chu from entering the legislative chamber (even after the police escorted her through the courtyard), so she never answered any questions. The DPP caucus did not forcibly open  a path for her into the chamber so that she (and the other nominees) could make a show of answering questions. I think this was both a violation of the unwritten rules and also a political misjudgment. The unwritten rules say the DPP needed to put her up on the stand to answer questions. If the KMT had disrupted those proceedings, they could have declared that no one else had any substantive questions to ask and ruled that the interpellation had concluded. Politically, I think the DPP should have dared the KMT to spell out its charges of corruption against Chen Chu, since (as far as I can tell) those charges are actually pretty flimsy. If the KMT didn’t want to make the charges, one of the DPP legislators could have asked her a softball question inviting her to refute the meager charges and confidently talk about her lifelong fight against corruption while declaring herself competent and capable. Instead, they voted to skip the interpellation session entirely and move directly to a vote. The KMT, the TPP, and the NPP have all questioned the legality of this move and vowed to challenge it in court. I’m not a constitutional scholar, so I don’t know what the court will think. However, as a legislative scholar, the most pertinent fact is that Chen Chu got 65 yes votes, easily more than the 57 she needed.  Still, the DPP should have taken a few more hours to struggle through this process. They chose a shortcut, and they deserve to be criticized for doing so.


Perhaps one reason that both sides performed their roles so badly is that they are all relative newbies. Speaker Wang had forty years experience in the legislature, and he could explain to everyone why they didn’t want to violate the informal rules. He’s gone now, and the KMT caucus is dominated by several newer faces. Some, like Lai Shih-pao, have been around for a years, but he is a much more ideologically extreme figure than previous elder statemen. He might not care so much for the established norms. Others, such as Hung Meng-kai or Chen Yi-hsin, are brand new and might not know what the informal rules are. There is more continuity on the DPP side, with the glaring exception of the speaker. Speaker Yu had never served in the legislature before 2020. His only experience in an assembly came in the Provincial Assembly from 1981 to 1989. That was a very different era with a very different chamber and very different party politics. His knowledge of the Legislative Yuan was basically zero, and you can see that lack of experience in his ham-fisted handling of this episode. Overall, neither side came out of this brawl very well.

Presidential campaign accounts

July 13, 2020

A few days ago, the Liberty Times published a story about the financial accounts for the Tsai and Han presidential campaigns. I rarely talk about the role of money in politics because we generally don’t have very good data to look at. This is real data, so maybe it’s worth a quick glance.

However, before I talk about the actual data, let’s quickly note that there are limits to these data. These data come from the Control Yuan, which collects data on political donations based on legal requirements established in various versions of the so-called “Sunshine Laws.” Unfortunately, there are lots of shady spots in the Sunshine Laws, so you can’t expect that these data are the full story. There is not really any penalty for misreporting. If someone shows evidence that a politician has misreported, the politician can simply file a new, accurate report within a certain period of time. Moreover, these reports only cover the accounts of the Tsai and Han campaigns, narrowly construed. They don’t cover all the spending of other organizations, such as the DPP and KMT, various legislative candidates who helped out, or outside supporting groups, such as the Friends of Tsai Ing-wen (小英之友). Finally and most importantly, it isn’t clear to me what the time period is. A quick glance at the Control Yuan website seems to indicate that most of these data start from Sept 1, 2019. Of course, by Sept 1, both campaigns had been in full swing for seven or eight months. So, these data are by no means the full story. Still, they are at least part of the story. And since I don’t think contemporary presidential campaigns are like, say, legislative campaigns from the early 1990s in which as much as 90% of the actual expenses were illegal (read: vote-buying) and off-the-books, these are probably not completely worthless data.


[A quick note on currency and numbers. Even after all these years, my brain still doesn’t process large numbers in NT dollars very well. This has something to do with the basic difference between English numbers, which are based on three zeroes (thousands, millions, billions, trillions) and Chinese numbers, which are based on four zeroes (ten thousands 萬, hundred millions 億, trillions 兆). I instinctively understand small numbers, since I live with those in my everyday life. After a brief experience house hunting in Taipei several years ago, numbers up to tens of millions 千萬 also make sense to me. But once you start to get in to the hundred millions 億 and above, my eyes glaze over and I need to start converting into US dollars for anything to make sense. So I’ll give you the data in both NTD and USD, but I’m going to discuss everything in terms of USD.]


So how much does it cost to run a presidential campaign? Tsai’s reported budget is roughly USD 20 million, while Han’s is roughly USD 15 million. As noted above, this doesn’t cover the entire campaign, but it probably covers most of the last four months, when the campaign expenses were probably at their highest. My very rough and uneducated guess is that the total cost for the entire campaign (starting at the beginning of 2019) was probably about three times these amounts. But I could be way off with that guess, so don’t quote me on it. That’s real money, but a hell of a lot less than American presidential candidates are burning though, even considering the difference in population size.


Liberty Times broke down both the revenues and expenses into several categories. Let’s look at donations first. In NTD, they are as follows:


Tsai Ing-wen (DPP) Revenues (NTD) Han Kuo-yu (KMT)
          338,148,598 Individuals           371,129,494
          160,569,287 For-profit businesses             45,263,389
                   14,500 Political parties               6,000,000
              6,442,000 NGOs               1,230,400
            59,565,732 Anonymous sources             32,676,370
                   21,512 Other                    11,170
          564,761,629 Total revenues           456,310,823


Divide the numbers by 30 to convert to USD, and you get the following:


Tsai Ing-wen (DPP) Revenues (USD) Han Kuo-yu (KMT)
        11,271,620 Individuals       12,370,983
          5,352,310 For-profit businesses          1,508,780
                     483 Political parties             200,000
             214,733 NGOs               41,013
          1,985,524 Anonymous sources          1,089,212
                     717 Other                     372
        18,825,388 Total revenues       15,210,361


The two candidates got roughly the same amount from individual donations, but Tsai got significantly more from private enterprises. This latter gap is both entirely predictable and simultaneously a bit surprising. On the one hand, businesses want to buy influence, so they always donate more heavily to candidates who look likely to win (and will be in position to make decisions). Since Tsai was clearly leading by September, it isn’t surprising that businesses bet on her. On the other hand, businesses have traditionally favored the KMT. This is especially true for all those businesses that have operations in China. They want traditionally want a government who will help them access the China market, and some of them have to openly support the One China candidate in order to satisfy pressures from within China. So it’s a little surprising to me that all those Taishang didn’t donate more than USD 1.5 million to the Han campaign, just a public relations ploy to their Chinese associates.

The fact that Han actually got a bit more than Tsai in individual donations is also striking, given that Han was trailing in the polls. We heard stories all year about the fervent Han fans, and this might be a reflection of that die-hard support.


What about the expenditures? Here are the data in NTD and USD. Note that I have translated 宣傳  as “messaging.” Sometimes this term gets translated as “propaganda,” which has always made it sound somewhat Soviet to me. Other possibilities, such as “advertising” or “communications” don’t quite seem to capture the broadness of this category.


Tsai Ing-wen (DPP) Expenditures (NTD) Han Kuo-yu (KMT)
          325,861,233 Messaging           381,286,374
          101,796,817 Events             23,511,551
            67,913,244 Personnel               6,388,387
              6,590,742 Transportation               3,401,994
            29,209,856 Rent and office                  932,371
            57,524,974 Other             10,655,529
          588,896,866 Total           426,176,206



Tsai Ing-wen (DPP) Expenditures (USD) Han Kuo-yu (KMT)
        10,862,041 Messaging       12,709,546
          3,393,227 Events             783,718
          2,263,775 Personnel             212,946
             219,691 Transportation             113,400
             973,662 Rent and office               31,079
          1,917,499 Other             355,184
        19,629,896 Total       14,205,874


Both campaigns spent more on messaging than any other category. However, while Tsai spent about half of her budget on messaging, Han reported spending nearly 90% of his money on this category.

The media stories were all about how the campaigns spent money to appear on new media. They had a field day breathlessly telling us that Han spent two and a half times as much as Tsai for his appearance on the Nite Nite Show. I guess I’m just not that interested by that little story. I’d like to know how much they spent on You Tube shows, Facebook, Line, traditional media, and so forth. But we don’t have that data here.

Han reports spending USD 1.5 million on everything else. This seems a bit unlikely to me. I will believe that he didn’t spend anything on renting out campaign offices, but only if you tell me that people donated space for little or no cost. Of course, that should be counted at market rates (for both donations and expenses), but this is one of those shady spots in the Sunshine Laws.

The gap in personnel costs is stunning. Tsai reports spending ten times as much as Han on staff! I would be willing to believe that Tsai ran a fully staffed and professional (read: expensive) campaign while Han had to make do with a relatively amateur operation, but this difference is astonishing. After all, the KMT has ample experience running real campaigns; they should have minimum standards for staffing.

The gap on events, where Tsai reported about four times more spending, seems more reasonable to me. We all remember Han’s big, spectacular events. However, as someone who spent the campaign looking for events to attend, it was my clear impression that the Tsai campaign put on a lot more events. A lot of them were smaller, but those all cost money. She was doing several events nearly every day, while he seemed to drop off the campaign trail for two or three days at a time. This also explains the gap in transportation expenses.


Several times over the past few years, I have thought about how the KMT and DPP seemed to have switched roles. These expenditure reports are another example. 25 years ago, the DPP would have been running the shoestring campaign with no professional staff, no fancy offices, and spending everything they could on their message. The KMT was the one with all those overhead costs. I don’t think the DPP has gotten to the old KMT levels of unproductive bureaucratic bloat, but these numbers suggest that they are now the ones running the big, slick, professional operation.