Political Fundraising Scandal Spreads to Kishida Faction; Calls for Explanation Yet to Generate Detailed Response

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The repercussions of the political fundraising scandal involving factions of the Liberal Democratic Party, having already rocked the Abe faction, have finally reached the Kishida faction, formerly led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The 40-member Nikai faction, led by Toshihiro Nikai, is also among those suspected of underreporting income from ticket sales for fundraising parties in its political funds reports.

Under these circumstances, it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to calm the situation simply by replacing all the ministers and party officials from the Abe faction, the party’s largest, which was previously led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Explanation sought

“The secretariat will investigate this matter and provide a detailed explanation to the [prosecutor’s] office. I have once again thoroughly instructed them to do so,” Kishida told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo on Tuesday.

His comments came after allegations that the 46-member Kishida faction is suspected of underreporting revenue from fundraising parties. Kishida, who led the faction for over a decade, from October 2012 to Dec. 7 this year, said he would take immediate action to address the situation.

Since Kishida stated on Dec. 2 that he was unaware of any possibility that his own faction had underreported income, he was asked by reporters Tuesday about the consistency of his statement.

In response, he said, “I explained the things I was aware of when I was asked about it.”

The amount of underreporting by the Kishida faction is likely to be small.

A senior government official said the Kishida faction’s case is substantially different from the hidden fund scandal involving the 99-member Abe faction, which allegedly made off-the-books kickbacks totaling about ¥500 million.

However, a veteran member of the Kishida faction said: “We don’t have a clear picture of the situation. We’ll confirm what is going on.”

Meanwhile, one of the executive members of the faction said, “We also may have been sloppy in our handling [of political fund reporting.]”

If the Kishida faction repeats that the matter is under investigation without giving a concrete explanation, it is inevitable that criticism will increase, as it did with the Abe faction.

There is a growing sense of urgency within the faction, with one faction member saying, “With the allegations being reported at this time, it is inevitable that the public will paint the Kishida faction with the same brush as the Abe faction.”

Strategy gone awry

With hidden-funds allegations about the Kishida faction also coming to light, the prime minister’s strategy to calm the situation could be severely derailed.

Kishida is poised to try to bring the situation under control by making major changes by replacing all four Cabinet ministers and senior vice ministers who are from the Abe faction — including Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who was at the center of the allegations.

Kishida is also poised to make such changes to senior party officials.

Yet with the Kishida faction now under suspicion after the Nikai faction, an LDP member who served as a Cabinet minister said, “If we proceed with the logic that the Abe faction is the problem, then [the public] would begin to wonder about the Kishida and Nikai factions.”

The 56-member Aso faction, led by LDP Vice President Taro Aso, is also suspected of underreporting revenues from fundraising parties.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan’s Diet Affairs Committee Chairperson Jun Azumi told reporters in the Diet on Tuesday, “If [the scandal] spreads to other factions, it will become a problem not only for the Abe faction but for the entire Liberal Democratic Party.”

“It would be completely meaningless to replace only the Abe faction members,” he said.

Elimination of factionalism

Within the ruling parties, there are persistent calls for drastic measures, including revision of the Political Funds Control Law, in order to restore public trust.

When Keiichi Ishii, secretary general of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, met with his LDP counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday in the Diet, he urged the government to “make bold political reforms in next year’s ordinary Diet session.”

However, some of the prime minister’s close aides reportedly remain reluctant, saying that it is difficult to revise the law on which the investigation is based. The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is still investigating the case.

As one issue after another spreads within the party, a junior LDP member said, “We have no choice but to eliminate factionalism.”

The LDP has worked to eliminate factions in the past. In 1963, the party’s organization research committee recommended the immediate elimination of factions.

In 1994, the party’s reform headquarters decided to abolish factionalism, reflecting that the LDP had become an opposition party.

 Each time, however, the factions were reinstated, for example, by changing them into “political groups.” Thus, there is a deep-rooted belief in the party that it will not be easy to realize the elimination of its factions.

Kickbacks likely listed

The Kishida faction is thought to have distributed party proceeds to Diet members who sold more than their assigned quota of party tickets without recording the extra proceeds in the faction’s political funds balance report, as the Abe and Nikai factions are thought to have done.

However, the Kishida faction, like the Nikai faction, is said to have recorded the proceeds that were given to members among its expenditures, while the legislators reported the money as income in their respective balance reports.

The Kishida faction’s balance reports for 2018-22 show that, in addition to “ice” and “mochi” expenses in summer and winter, the faction sent from tens of thousands to several million yen to the political organizations affiliated with each member, one to two months after holding parties. The expenditures, which appeared to be kickbacks, added up to ¥20 million to ¥50 million a year.

An official of the office of a Kishida faction member said, “We received funds corresponding to the amount that exceeded our quota, but we properly recorded it in the balance report.”