The first hearing was held Thursday in the trial of Lower House member Takanori Sakai, who has been charged with violating the Political Funds Control Law by concealing political donations from companies.
The case is drawing public attention once again to problems involving money and politics, leading to efforts by the ruling coalition to revise the funds law this Diet session.
The bill that would effect the revision, however, has proved quite unpopular with the media, scholars and opposition parties. The ruling bloc is nevertheless trying to ram it through the Diet before the session ends July 28.
Following are questions and answers regarding the revision bill:
Q. Why has the ruling coalition submitted the bill to revise the Political Funds Control Law?
A. The bill was drafted because money-related scandals involving politicians never end. Funding misdeeds have led to arrests and resignations of major political figures, mainly in the ruling camp, over the past several years.
Recent downfalls include those of former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, former farm minister Tadamori Oshima, Lower House member Muneo Suzuki, Lower House member Takanori Sakai, Lower House member Kenshiro Matsunami and former executives at the Nagasaki chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party. They make up just a fraction of the list.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other Cabinet members have been confronted and grilled in the Diet by opposition lawmakers, forcing the ruling coalition to hammer out political reforms to demonstrate they are serious about wanting to clean up their act — regardless of whether their measures prove effective.
Q. The bill has been bashed by almost all circles except for the ruling coalition. Why?
A. Critics charge that the revised legislation could make the flow of political donations even murkier, effectively ensuring corruption continues.
The current law obliges the names of all contributors, whether individual or corporate, to be disclosed if their donations exceed 50,000 yen a year. The donations can be made to a party’s headquarters or local chapters, or to an individual politician’s fundraising organ. Each is a separate entity in terms of donations, and thus each can receive up to 50,000 yen from the same source without it having to be named.
The LDP has inserted a provision in the bill to allow donors to remain anonymous if this amount is no more than 240,000 yen a year.
The 50,000 yen disclosure threshold was set in 1994 after the country’s political scene was rocked by bribery scandals. Most observers feel that setting the threshold at 240,000 yen represents a retreat from reform efforts.
Q. The bill would put a new 1.5 million yen cap on corporate donations to a single party chapter a year. Won’t this improve the situation, since corporate donations are often considered a source of corruption?
A. Critics say loopholes will ensure nothing improves.
Currently, only a few corporations donate such a large amount of money to a single local chapter.
Furthermore, there is no legal limit on the number of local chapters a party can set up. Although individual politicians can only have one fundraising organ, they can abuse the local chapter system by setting up several and in the process receive an unlimited amount of corporate donations.
There were 5,136 local LDP chapters in 1995 and 7,250 as of the end of 2002 — roughly double the number of municipalities in the country. In comparison, the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, had only 468 chapters at the end of 2002.
Q. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has dared to say, “There’s nothing you can do” because “no matter how many laws you draw up, (politicians) will break them.” Isn’t there any way to rectify this?
A. According to an LDP advisory panel on political funds, there is.
The panel last year proposed posting complete information disclosure of political money on the Internet, putting limits on donations from companies that have won public works contracts and prohibiting local party chapters from transferring corporate donations to individual politicians.
But resistance within the LDP has effectively kept Koizumi and other LDP executives from acting on the recommendations, prompting the opposition camp to denounce Koizumi for lacking initiative.