Political Funds Issue: Parties Must Strive for Debates That Lead to Real Reform

Despite repeated debates on issues of politics and money, the situation is falling into a never-ending cycle. Both the ruling and opposition parties need to discuss specific measures to make the handling of political funds transparent.

An intensive discussion on political funds was held at a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting.

The opposition parties repeatedly pressed for senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Abe and Nikai factions, who are suspected of creating hidden funds, to attend the lower house Deliberative Council on Political Ethics. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reiterated that he was urging those involved to fulfill their accountability through various means.

Regarding funds that parties allocate to their lawmakers for political activities, recorded as donations, the opposition parties called for either the abolition of such funds or the disclosure of how they were used. In response, Kishida only said, “We would like to discuss rules common to all parties.”

The opposition parties criticized the prime minister for repeating the same answer, saying that they sensed “no motivation [in him] at all.”

In response to the current scandal, Kishida had said that he would “take the lead in reforming the LDP’s culture.” However, his answers in the Diet appear to be nothing more than an attempt to fend off the opposition’s offensives.

If Kishida is serious about taking the lead on political party reforms, he should present his own specific views on the points of contention on the revision of the Political Funds Control Law.

The opposition parties’ attitude is also problematic. Attendance at the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics cannot happen without the consent of the persons in question. The opposition parties’ pressure on the prime minister to make a commitment even while knowing that he cannot force senior members of the Abe and other factions to attend the council appears to be a tactic aimed at tarnishing the Cabinet’s image.

The government and the ruling and opposition parties must strive for substantive discussions on the transparency of political funds, rather than simply engaging in political gamesmanship.

The opposition also took up the topic of a party celebrating Kishida’s inauguration as prime minister that was held in 2022 in Hiroshima City, from which he has been elected. The event was reportedly organized by a private organization that charged a fee of ¥10,000 per person, with 1,100 people attending.

When a private organization arranges such an event, lawmakers are in principle not required to record the income and expenditures in their political funds reports. However, the prime minister’s secretaries and others were in charge of accounting and other roles for the party. After the party, the organization donated ¥3.2 million to a local political party branch headed by the prime minister himself. The opposition parties, therefore, pursued the matter, claiming that it was an “act of evasion of the law.”

Kishida explained that the party was “not a gathering that raises any suspicion.” But if that is the case, he needs to clarify exactly what kind of gathering it was.

Prior to the Budget Committee meeting, the LDP announced the results of a survey of political funds of its lawmakers and expected election candidates, which found that 85 people failed to report certain funds in their political funds reports, with the total amount omitted coming to ¥580 million.

The responsibility of the LDP is grave for disregarding the Political Funds Control Law, which requires that political activities be subject to public scrutiny by disclosing the balance of political funds.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 15, 2024)