Upper House Political Ethics Council: Asking Accounting Staff about Political Funds Is an Option

As in the case of the House of Representatives, a similar repetition of questions and answers was heard throughout the House of Councillors deliberative council session, and it did not lead to a clarification of the actual situation. The ruling and opposition parties need to review the subject matter and methods of deliberation.

In response to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party factions’ alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law, three LDP lawmakers who belonged to the faction once led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have appeared at a session of the upper house Deliberative Council on Political Ethics to provide explanations. The lawmakers who appeared were Hiroshige Seko, former secretary general of the LDP’s upper house members, who was a senior member of the faction; Seiko Hashimoto, former chairperson of the general assembly of the LDP’s upper house members; and upper house member Shoji Nishida.

The Abe faction has kicked back to member legislators in cash the amount equivalent to the number of tickets sold in excess of their quotas for political fundraising parties. In the years when upper house elections were held, the entire amount equivalent to the tickets sold is said to have been returned to those upper house lawmakers.

Seko stated that the practice “started more than a decade ago,” but said he did not realize that he had been receiving kickbacks until the scandal came to light last year.

In April 2022, Abe, then chairman of the faction, instructed Seko and other faction leaders to stop the practice, but after Abe’s death in July 2022, the practice continued. Seko repeatedly said, “I also would like to know who made the decision” regarding the faction’s policy change.

The four Abe faction leaders who appeared at the lower house Deliberative Council on Political Ethics also stated that they do not know how the practice started and why the faction instructed member lawmakers not to include the kickbacks in their political funds reports. Pursuing the Abe faction members any further at the political ethics council sessions may not get anywhere.

Accounting staff and others of the Abe, Nikai and Kishida factions were charged over the scandal. If politicians continue to assert that they do not know, summoning officials who actually managed the political funds as witnesses before the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics or the Budget Committee might be more effective in trying to clarify the actual situation.

In principle, the political ethics council sessions are closed to the public. The opposition parties insisted on the sessions being broadcasted on TV as they might have been aiming to show the public that they are questioning LDP lawmakers.

Diet members often coordinate the opinions of various groups and utilize them when making policies. During the process of gathering opinions, there must be cases in which using political funds, such as for dinners, is difficult to make public.

If Diet members are serious about improving the transparency of the usage of political funds, one idea would be to honestly discuss the issue with each other and come up with specific measures.

It is also said that some Abe faction Diet members have given the money to local assembly members as “encouragement gifts” for their campaign support.

It is not illegal to give “encouragement gifts” as a donation between political organizations. However, if the recipient perceives it as a request to gather votes for the donor, it might be considered vote-buying, and the line separating donation from vote-buying is said to be unclear.

The ruling and opposition parties should consider adopting an easy-to-understand system, such as by revisions to the law.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2024)