Intensive Diet deliberations: LDP factions face challenge of dispelling distrust over hidden funds

If the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is unable to dispel suspicion over the funding practices of its factions, it could find itself in a crisis. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should realize that his administration is at a critical juncture and do his utmost to restore trust.

Intensive deliberations were held in the Budget Committee of both houses of the Diet. The opposition parties focused on the issue of five of the six factions of the LDP (not including the one led by LDP General Council Chairperson Hiroshi Moriyama) having underreported their revenue from fundraising parties.

Of these, the faction previously led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, known as the Abe faction, kicked back to its members the amount by which the proceeds of fundraising party ticket sales exceeded each member’s assigned ticket sales quota. There would have been no problem if the returned money had been included in their political fund reports, but it is suspected that neither the faction nor the lawmakers have included such information.

Yukio Edano of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan pursued the issue at the deliberations. “Failure to report the portion in excess of quotas constitutes hidden funds,” Edano said.

In response, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, a member of the Abe faction, said, “In light of an investigation being underway, I would like to carefully check my own political organization and take appropriate action.” He repeatedly gave similar answers.

An allegation has emerged that Matsuno received over ¥10 million from the faction but failed to include it in his political fund report.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is conducting a full-scale investigation into each of the LDP factions on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law. It may be the case that Matsuno cannot give detailed answers because it might affect the investigation.

However, the public’s distrust will only grow if Matsuno continues to offer nothing but superficial explanations. Can he fulfill his role as a spokesman for the Cabinet with this kind of response?

In the Abe faction, more than 10 members are suspected of failing to list kickbacks as income in their political fund reports. It is no wonder that they are suspected of systematically creating hidden funds.

The Abe faction staff member in charge of accounting reportedly told the investigation squad that they had reported the return of the funds to the secretary general of the faction. Matsuno served as the secretary general from 2019 to 2021. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who also belongs to the Abe faction, was its secretary general from 2021 to 2022.

Why have they continued the inappropriate accounting practices? Matsuno and Nishimura bear a heavy responsibility to explain the details to the public.

At the Diet deliberations, Kishida said, “The party will work together to regain trust.” Prior to this, Kishida announced his own departure from one of the LDP’s five factions, of which he was the chairman.

While many former LDP prime ministers left their factions when they took office to demonstrate that they were not bound by their factions, Kishida had remained as the leader of his faction and frequently attended its meetings.

In some respects, Kishida’s faction-oriented stance may have spurred the vigorous activities of the LDP factions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 9, 2023)