LDP’s Reform Headquarters: Abe Faction Leaders Must Fulfill Accountability for Scandal

Whether it is subsidies to political parties, which are financed by taxpayers’ money, or ticket purchases for political fundraising parties, it must be said that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lacked awareness that the party is being funded by other people’s money.

Measures must be taken to prevent the sloppy handling of political funds.

The LDP held a meeting of its political reform headquarters for all LDP Diet members over the factions’ alleged violation of the Political Funds Control Law. About 150 Diet members, or 40% of the party’s total, attended the meeting, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida listened to the discussions for about three hours.

During the meeting, several participants voiced their opinions that efforts should be made to ensure transparency regarding the income and expenditures of political funds through such measures as limiting payment for party ticket purchases to bank account transfers. There were also calls for the banning of faction-organized political fundraising parties and for the dissolution of factions.

The Abe faction allegedly kicked back to its members in cash the amount of party tickets sales in excess of their sales quotas, and both the faction and its members are strongly suspected of treating the kickbacks as hidden funds without reporting them in their political funds reports.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad is not expected to build a case against the seven Abe faction executive members who are thought to have been involved in the kickbacks.

However, if this weakens the efforts to increase the transparency of political funds, it will be impossible to dispel the public’s distrust of politics. Legal responsibility aside, the law must be revised without fail.

Under the single-seat constituency system, the party leadership has strong authority, including the right to decide which candidate the party will endorse. Although the presence of factions has declined compared to the days of the multiple-seat constituency system, in which candidates from different factions competed in the same constituencies, there are apparently examples of factions exercising influence in the coordination of who the party will endorse.

In addition, the factions’ wishes are still respected in cabinet and party executive appointments. Each faction supports its members’ political activities by providing them with an allowance known as “ice money” in the summer and “mochi (rice cake) money” in the winter.

It is true that the LDP has increased its vitality as each faction’s members compete and cooperate with each other. Nevertheless, personnel appointments that respect the wishes of factions tend to place more importance on the number of times the person has been elected over their ability. There is a deep-rooted criticism against nontransparent funding by factions to their members.

A review of the functions and roles of factions can be said to be a necessity of the times.

Senior members of the Abe faction have not given any explanation regarding the scandal. Of the 38 members of the political reform headquarters, nine Abe faction members are suspected of not recording kickbacks in their political funds reports and using the money as hidden funds. The Kishida faction has also been found to have underreported revenues from political fundraising parties.

If the party promotes its reform without fulfilling accountability for the scandal, it will lack persuasiveness. It is quite natural that Kishida will explain the handling of his faction’s funds, but he should also instruct Abe faction leaders and others to thoroughly deal with the issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 18, 2024)