DPJ would ban corporate funds in political arena

by Kazuaki Nagata

A key political reform committee of the Democratic Party of Japan, whose leader, Ichiro Ozawa, is mired in an illicit funds scandal, unveiled a draft report on political funds Thursday that seeks a complete ban on corporate donations.

The ban includes prohibiting companies from purchasing party tickets for politicians’ fundraising activities, the DPJ said.

“It is very pleasing that the party has shown a direction” on the issue of political funds control, said Naoto Kan, the DPJ’s deputy president.

The team will poll all party members based on the draft and ask their opinions about the most appropriate timing to start the ban, according to Yoshihiko Noda, a member of the political reform committee.

The DPJ plans to include the proposal in its platform for the next general election and call for cooperation from both the ruling and opposition parties.

Committee members agreed that until necessary preparations are made to implement the ban, donations from companies receiving orders for public works projects should be banned during a transitional period.

Another measure the DPJ suggested for the transitional period is to create a system in which companies and political organizations wishing to make donations must register with the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

The draft also suggests making efforts to increase individual donations, including making individual donations up to a certain amount fully tax deductible.

After the draft is finalized, Noda said the DPJ plans to submit a bill in the current Diet session.

The Political Funds Control Law prohibits politicians from receiving donations from companies.

However, companies are allowed to make contributions to registered political parties or their branches.

Noting that corporate donations have always been considered a problem, Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of political science at Nihon University and an expert on political funds, supports the basic concept of the proposal.

But he said it is “questionable if the DPJ draft can close all the loopholes.”

He said individuals may still be able to buy party tickets and seek reimbursement from their companies at a later date.

Iwai pointed out that when it comes to regulating political funds, the focus has always been on the flow of money to politicians.

He said the discussion should instead focus on how politicians or political parties spend money. Creating a spending limit would probably control political funds more effectively, he said.

“If there is a restriction on spending, there is no need to collect more than the necessary amount,” said Iwai.

The political funds issue has been in the spotlight ever since Ozawa’s chief secretary, Takanori Okubo, was arrested March 3 for allegedly receiving illegal donations from scandal-hit Nishimatsu Construction Co.

A special investigative squad from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted Okubo, who was the chief accountant of Ozawa’s funds management body, on March 24 for allegedly accepting ¥35 million in donations from Nishimatsu.

The prosecutors allege the firm funneled the donations through two entities it set up between 2003 and 2006.