No strings attached? Pull the other one
The revelation of media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying's secret contributions to local democrats has shocked the city. The most troublesome appear to be the gifts to Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (HK$20 million) and Anson Chan Fang On-sang (HK$1.3 million).
His reported donations of more than HK$13.5 million to the Democratic Party from 2006 to last year and over HK$14.5 million to the Civic Party for the same period further demonstrate his anti-China, anti-Hong-Kong-government zeal.
Even in a country like the US, which prides itself on its freedom and democracy, acts of this nature would commonly be regarded as unacceptable.
One can compare Lai's political contributions to those of billionaire George Soros, but Soros does it in a much more transparent manner. Lai, on the other hand, has been working in the dark.
No wonder Cardinal Zen and Lai vehemently oppose the implementation of Article 23 national security legislation: some of the money given to Cardinal Zen, for example, was used to fund underground churches on the mainland, an act that could be deemed treasonous.
According to recent WikiLeaks disclosures, Lai was part of a coalition of senior democratic figures who were reportedly instrumental in winning over Civic Party chief Audrey Eu Yuet-mee on the 'de facto referendum' by-election plan. This was dressed up as democracy and freedom of speech. It now seems more like freedom of money.
All the dissident political parties insist there were no strings attached to Lai's contributions. Yet, one would expect to have to at least listen to a donor whose payments constitute a substantial chunk of a party's budget.
Lai's political inclinations are well known, as are those of his media empire.
A more puzzling development is over the HK$1 million seemingly paid to the League of Social Democrats last year in support of its by-election campaign. Chairman Andrew To Kwan-hang has claimed that neither he nor the league received the money.
And then there's the matter of where Lai's money comes from. He insists it's all his.
All we know is that Lai's actual and planned contributions for this year seem to have been quite unaffected by reported losses at the Next Media Group, the dwindling circulation of Apple Daily, and the piles of the free tabloid sharpdaily.com that end up in the landfill and waste-paper collection shops every day.
No matter, the crucial question remains: should the media be so proactive in politics that it becomes a driving force?
Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development