Where did large sum of money from fundraising go?

A series of political and money scandals involving Diet members has worsened the public’s distrust. These lawmakers need to be accountable for their involvement in the misconduct.

Kentaro Sonoura, a Diet member of the Liberal Democratic Party who was elected from Chiba Constituency No. 5, has resigned from the House of Representatives. The resignation came after his political organizations had understated income from fundraising parties in his political funds reports.

Sonoura’s fund management organization and related political group listed the income from nine fundraising parties held between 2017 and 2020 as a total of about ¥54 million. However, the actual revenue was reportedly ¥40 million higher than that amount.

Transparency in lawmakers’ political funds ensures their activities are conducted fairly. If their income and expenditure reports, which form the foundation of such transparency, do not reflect the actual situation, the basis of the funds report system will be shaken. It must be said that Sonoura lacked awareness of the norms. His resignation as a Diet member is only natural.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is investigating Sonoura with an eye to bringing a summary indictment against him over violation of the Political Funds Control Law. If a summary order to pay a fine is finalized, his right to run in an election will be suspended for five years, in principle.

However, that is hardly sufficient to settle this matter.

Sonoura’s first state-paid secretary, who is responsible for both organizations’ accounting, reportedly admitted to the special investigation squad that the income had been underreported, and that Sonoura had been informed of the fact.

Late last month, Sonoura told reporters, “The person in charge of accounting did all such things.” However, when questioned by investigators, Sonoura reportedly reversed his position and admitted that he had been aware of the underreporting.

What circumstances were behind the underreporting and when did Sonoura become involved in it? What on earth was the large amount of money, which was not listed in the political funds reports, used for? It is essential that such matters promptly be made public in detail.

Sonoura, who was elected to the lower house five times, previously served as state minister for foreign affairs and special advisor to the prime minister, and recently he was even mentioned as a possible candidate for a Cabinet post. His resignation as a result of the scandal is likely to deal a blow to the LDP.

The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has seen no end to problems related to political funds. Last month, Minoru Terada was ousted as the internal affairs and communications minister due to irregularities in his political funds reports. Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba has come under suspicion of misusing campaign expenses.

It will soon be 10 years since the LDP returned to power. As the ruling party has continued to win elections, there may be some slackness among its members. Kishida should tighten up the party.

In May, the LDP established a governance code, which calls for improved training for its members in areas such as political ethics. This must not end up being a mere performance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 22, 2022)