Passage of Revised Political Funds Control Law: Complyng with Rules the Minimum Responsibility / Hurry to Resolve Numerous Issues Left Undone

In response to the scandal over political fundraising parties held by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the revised Political Funds Control Law, which has been the biggest focus of the current Diet session, has finally been enacted.

As a premise for restoring trust in politics, a conclusion must quickly be reached on issues that have been postponed and various points of reflection that have been highlighted in the turmoil of the past six months must thoroughly be confirmed.

The principle behind the Political Funds Control Law is that political activities should be subject to constant scrutiny and criticism by the public. In this respect, one point in which progress has been made is the strengthening of penalties for lawmakers who violate the law.

Tougher penalties for lawmakers

Concerning LDP factions’ funds, criminal charges were filed against the persons responsible for accounting and others in the Abe, Nikai and Kishida factions. However, many lawmakers were not held accountable, which drew criticism.

Based on this fact, the revised law requires lawmakers to confirm that there are no violations in their income and expenditure reports on political funds. If accounting staff are punished, the civil rights of lawmakers who have not sufficiently conducted such confirmation will be suspended, and they will lose their positions as Diet members.

In addition, to make the handling of political funds more transparent, the threshold for the disclosure of the names of party ticket purchasers was lowered from “over ¥200,000” to “over ¥50,000.” By making the threshold the same as an individual donation, the aim is to make it easier to understand the source of political funds.

The revised law also reviewed the issue of what form “funds for political activities” should take, which had not been addressed in the past. Although there had been no obligation to disclose the funds provided to legislators by political parties, political parties are now required to list the amount spent and on what date, split into broad categories such as “organizational activities” and “election-related matters.”

The LDP has spent more than ¥1 billion a year as “funds for political activities” for such purposes as bolstering election campaign support. Even though only a summary of the spending is required to be made public, the premise that the use of the funds must be disclosed will prevent the LDP from using the money in the slipshod manner it has in the past.

Can political distrust be dispelled?

Going forward, both ruling and opposition parties need to devise specific ways of conducting politics and elections that do not require much money.

Meanwhile, this time, there are numerous issues that have been left unresolved. For example, measures to reduce subsidies to political parties whose lawmakers have been punished for violating the Political Funds Control Law and the establishment of a third-party organization to monitor political funds, among others, were specified in the supplementary provisions of the revised law and left for future consideration.

If these points of contention remain unaddressed, they will once again become a source of political distrust. It is imperative to reach a conclusion so that mistakes will not be repeated.

What is even more important is for lawmakers to properly abide by the laws and rules they have themselves established.

This incident was initially triggered by the failure of factions and lawmakers to ensure that both political organizations and lawmakers state the flow of funds honestly in their political funds reports as standard practice.

It is not illegal to organize political fundraising parties and kick back to faction lawmakers the amount they raised from sales of party tickets in excess of quotas. However, the Abe faction and its lawmakers did not state the flow of such funds in their political funds reports.

As a result, distrust in politics grew, leading to discussions about banning such fundraising parties and donations from corporations and organizations.

Furthermore, the Abe faction revealed discrepancies between the testimony of its accounting staff and remarks made by its executive members at Deliberative Council on Political Ethics sessions in both chambers of the Diet.

All executive members of the Abe faction denied any involvement in the resumption of the kickbacks of party income from the faction to its member lawmakers. But the accounting staff stated at the trial that its resumption had been decided at a meeting among executive members upon the request of “a certain executive member.”

If the position of responsibility remains unclear, it will be impossible to dispel the distrust in politics.

In addition, the LDP’s dysfunctionality was exposed in the process of discussions with another ruling party and an opposition party as well as the debate in the Diet.

The working-level talks to negotiate changes in the revision bill between the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito failed to reach a consensus. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met separately with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi and Japan Innovation Party leader Nobuyuki Baba, and almost completely accepted the proposals of the two parties.

LDP’s erratic behavior

However, the JIP, which had voted in favor of the revision bill in the House of Representatives, voted against it in the House of Councillors, claiming that the LDP broke a promise made at the meeting of party leaders to disclose the use of the funds to cover “survey, research, public relations and accommodation costs” — previously known as “document, correspondence, travel and accommodation expenses.”

The fact that the promises coordinated by Kishida between political parties have not been implemented is probably due to a decline in his leadership within the LDP.

The relationship between Kishida and his mentor, LDP Vice President Taro Aso, has also deteriorated.

Aso had advised Kishida that if means of raising money from taxpayers were limited, people who can aspire to be a politician would be limited to those with assets, and younger lawmakers would run out of money. But Kishida accepted Komeito’s proposal to lower the threshold for the disclosure of the names of party ticket purchasers.

Although the legislation has been enacted, it has become even more difficult for the prime minister to regain his leadership within his own party.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 20, 2024)