Responding to recent money scandals involving Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, the secretaries general of the two ruling parties agreed Thursday they would make an effort to revise the Political Funds Control Law.
But there are doubts as to whether their pledge will be put into action, given the reluctance of many party heavyweights.
A history of amendments to the law suggests the difficulty faced by ruling parties when tasked with tightening controls on their own political funds.
“I don’t think this is a problem of the law itself. The problem is some people didn’t abide by the existing law,” Fumio Kyuma, chairman of the LDP Executive Council, said Wednesday.
On Thursday, LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe and his New Komeito counterpart, Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, agreed at a Tokyo hotel that they would work on a draft bill to revise the law. They did not specify details, however.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi instructed his Cabinet to submit the bill to an extraordinary Diet session scheduled to be convened this month. No specific timetable was agreed on.
The agreement follows a series of money scandals involving LDP lawmakers and the Japan Dental Association.
A number of LDP lawmakers reportedly received secret donations from the association that were laundered through the party’s political funds management body.
Corporate donations to individual politicians were banned when the revised funds control law took effect in 2000.
But the law has loopholes.
The law, which places no restrictions on the transfer of funds between registered political groups, allowed the dentist association to deliver money to its favorite politicians via the LDP’s funds management body. The body transferred the money to the LDP’s local chapters, which are managed by the party’s individual Diet members.
Yukihiro Yoshida, a former LDP Lower House member, was arrested in July on charges of misappropriating some of the money received from the association. He also reportedly received the laundered money from the association.
Another legal loophole permitted a major political scandal revealed this summer.
The funds control law does not oblige a political group to prove in its annual funds report how much money it really has in cash or in bank accounts.
The dental association donated 100 million yen to the LDP’s largest faction — then led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto — in 2001. But the faction did not mention the money in its annual political funds report, instead listing the cash in an under-the-counter accounting book.
This revelation led to the indictment of Kanezo Muraoka, a former faction heavyweight who lost his Diet seat last year, and the faction’s treasurer, Toshiyuki Takigawa, for allegedly violating the Political Funds Control Law. Every time the LDP has been hit with another money scandal, its lawmakers have floated plans to revise the funds control law to fend off public criticism.
But each time the proposed reforms have been either scrapped or watered down, leaving enough remaining loopholes to ensure that business continues as usual.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda has indicated that the ruling coalition would consider imposing a limit on political group-to-group transfers of funds as well as requiring political parties to handle all money transfers through bank accounts. But Tomoaki Iwai, professor of politics at Nihon University, doubted whether the coalition is really committed to the matter, saying it might be no more than a political gesture to fend off public criticism.
Iwai said that if the ruling parties are really serious about correcting the problem, they should first revise the law to ban any handling of political funds in cash and introduce external auditing to the party’s accounting to ensure transparency.
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