Political Funds Problem: Don’t Use Reform as A Tool in Political Power Struggles

Restoring the public’s trust by making the handling of political funds more transparent should be a top priority in Japanese politics today. It is doubtful that the ruling and opposition parties are aware of this.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner Komeito have begun their working-level meetings to revise the Political Funds Control Law. They are poised to finalize a draft proposal as ruling parties, which will then be deliberated in the Diet.

The ordinary Diet session ends on June 23, which is slightly over two months away. Considering that the Golden Week holiday period between late April and early May is approaching and it will take a certain amount of time to deliberate in the Diet, they will not want to prolong debate on the issue within the ruling parties.

Prior to the ruling parties’ meetings, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed the LDP’s Headquarters for Political Reform to compile the party’s draft proposal. However, the headquarters is negative about formulating the draft proposal. This is because there is a wide gap in assertions between the LDP and Komeito. Therefore, the LDP’s headquarters went into the first round of talks with Komeito empty-handed.

Without deciding on its own policy, how does the LDP intend to find a point of agreement or compromise with Komeito? It would be reasonable for the LDP, which is the party involved in the scandal over the alleged violations of the law, to take the initiative in presenting a proposal to revise the law.

Meanwhile, questions also remain about the draft proposals made by Komeito and the opposition parties.

Each party is proposing a system in which, if an accounting staff member is ultimately convicted of violating the Political Funds Control Law, the lawmaker would automatically be charged with a crime as well. The idea is based on the guilt-by-association system under the Public Offices Election Law.

This guilt-by-association system is a provision in the law that invalidates a lawmaker’s election win if a secretary or others are found guilty of bribery or other crimes. Because irregularities in elections, which are the foundation of democracy, are serious, the system adopts a severe penalty.

On the other hand, violations of the Political Funds Control Law can also be simple omissions or errors in entries made in political funds reports. It is questionable whether it is appropriate to equate wrongdoing in elections to elect the people’s representatives with violations regarding the handling of funds used to conduct political activities.

In addition, as for funds for political activities that political parties provide to their individual lawmakers, Komeito is calling for the disclosure of how the money is used, but the LDP is cautious about doing so. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, is calling for the abolition of these funds themselves.

The LDP’s funds for political activities amount to ¥1 billion per year. Considering the public’s harsh view of politics, it would be worth considering the disclosure of expenses in concrete terms of how the funds are used.

The CDPJ is also calling for a ban on donations by corporations and organizations and on all political fundraising parties.

Until the LDP’s scandal came to light, CDPJ lawmakers were also holding political fundraising parties as a matter of course. If politicians are to be banned from all means of raising money from taxpayers, how are they going to secure the necessary political funds?

Making a proposal that apparently aims only to expose the LDP’s reluctance to act, without regard to feasibility, will rather confuse the issue. It is unacceptable to use reform as a tool in political power struggles.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 18, 2024)