Lower House Budget Committee: How Much Will ‘Hidden Funds’ Affair Be Clarified?

Much remains unclear about alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law by factions of the Liberal Democratic Party. Since Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised in his recent Diet responses to clarify the actual situation, he should conduct a thorough investigation and disclose the details.

The Budget Committee of the House of Representatives has begun substantive deliberations on the government’s budget proposal for fiscal 2024.

Given that the prime minister has said that he will make those involved in the case take political responsibility, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada asked, “How will you take responsibility if you fail to live up to your words?”

The prime minister said, “It is my responsibility to implement items in the interim report of the party’s Headquarters for Political Reform,” stressing his intention to work on legislative revisions to increase the transparency of political funds.

Since the end of last week, the LDP has been interviewing senior members of its Abe and Nikai factions, which are suspected of creating “hidden funds.” It has also begun a survey of all party members to determine if there is any money that is not listed on their political funds reports.

It is not illegal for a party faction, as a political organization, to hold a political fundraising party or to distribute money raised at such a party to its members. The problem is that some of the funds raised though such parties were not listed on the political funds reports.

What was the intention of not including the information in the reports? What was the money used for? Clarification of these questions is the top priority.

The opposition parties are insisting that senior members of the Abe and Nikai factions should be called before the lower house Deliberative Council on Political Ethics, and the LDP has indicated that it is willing to accept the request.

Though it is obviously necessary to have senior faction members speak at the deliberative council, it will be meaningless if they repeat the explanations they have given at press conferences so far. It is necessary to clarify the truth firmly.

Okada also pressed the fact that the Kishida faction’s former accountant was also charged with making false entries regarding about ¥30 million in its political funds reports.

The prime minister said that “clerical errors were repeated,” and stressed: “Incomes from parties were deposited in a bank account. Assertion that the incomes from parties were intentionally concealed is missing the point.”

Even if it was a “clerical error,” the fact that the faction’s former accountant was charged with making a large amount of false entries is a serious matter. It raises the suspicion that something more may have happened. This should be clarified through discussions in the Diet.

Another theme of the committee was the response to the Noto Peninsula Earthquake.

Kishida expressed his intention to establish a program to provide up to ¥3 million to households with elderly or handicapped persons whose houses were destroyed or severely damaged. Combined with a current system of livelihood reconstruction assistance for disaster-affected people, eligible households will be able to receive a maximum of ¥6 million.

Support for disaster-hit areas is an issue that the government and the ruling and opposition parties should work on together. Constructive discussions should continue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 6, 2024)