Attempts by opposition parties to rattle Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during the ongoing Diet session in connection with political funding reports have proved fruitless.
Yet the Diet debates have illustrated at least one thing: The Political Funds Control Law has yet another loophole.
Koizumi has been grilled over the roughly 5 million yen in “office expenses” spent annually by a political group represented by his younger brother, Masaya. Between 2000 and 2003, Koizumi’s own fund management body donated around 18 million yen to 20 million yen every year to this group.
As the prime minister has disclosed only the details he is required to under law, the full breakdown of these expenses remains clouded.
“It is true that there is no way to find out the breakdown of what constitutes office expenses,” said Eiichi Saito, an official of Kanagawa Prefecture’s election management committee, which oversees the disclosure of local political groups’ annual funding reports. Koizumi hails from the Kanagawa No. 11 constituency.
Opposition parties note that the registered address of Masaya’s group, titled Koizumi Junichiro Doshikai, was on the premises of Koizumi’s private residence in the prefecture until March last year, before it was moved to the office of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Kanagawa No. 11 chapter.
Opposition lawmakers argue that office rent usually accounts for the majority of “office expenses,” or office maintenance costs. Some sections of the media have alleged that Doshikai and another group on the premises both included rent for the same space in their respective political funding reports. If true, it would open up the possibility that some political funds were not used as declared.
In April 2002, Koiichi Kato, an LDP veteran once regarded as a future prime minister, resigned from the Diet amid allegations that the rent for his private residence was covered by political funds. Kato was re-elected to the House of Representatives in November 2003.
The prime minister initially said Doshikai paid no rent, but later told a separate Diet committee that the two entities have jointly paid rent since they began occupying the same office.
But when Koizumi refused to divulge anything other than the entries required by law, there was little more that opposition lawmakers could do.
According to the Political Funds Control Law, all expenses of a political group are categorized as either “operating expenses,” or “political activity expenses.”
Operating expenses are the costs of maintaining the group itself; unlike political activity expenses, neither their breakdown nor receipts need to be entered in the official political funding report.
Koizumi has explained that items such as phone bills and stamp purchases made up the 5 million yen in Doshikai’s office expenses up to March 2003, although opposition parties have questioned why these items, if used to contact voters, were not listed as political activity outlays.
“You don’t have to enter what you don’t have to enter” on the funding report, Koizumi told the House of Councilors Budget Committee last week, refusing to elaborate on the breakdown of the money while strongly denying the rent allegations.
Masahiro Noguchi of the internal affairs ministry’s Political Contribution Control Division said his division could not immediately explain why receipts are not required for operating expenses. Noguchi said the manner in which the law has been revised over the decades needs to be scrutinized.
“My guess would be that the law is probably designed to reduce paperwork for political groups,” he said.
The Political Funds Control Law does not give the central or local governments the power to check whether the reports are accurate, let alone investigative authority.
“We take what is written as being the truth since there is no breakdown,” of the expenses, said Saito of Kanagawa Prefecture’s election management committee.
“We only have the legal authority to check the formal requirements” to see if all entries are properly filled out.
Hiroshi Kamiwaki, professor at Kobe Gakuin University’s faculty of law, said: “The (law) won’t function to check (the nature and flow of political funds) if (the reports) are organized that way.
“It’s almost tantamount to covering up the actual state (of the expenses).”
Kamiwaki is coleader of the Osaka-based citizens’ group Political Funds Ombudsman, which argues that allowing for blanket entries when reporting operating expenses represents “a legal loophole.”
Regarding Diet debate over the prime minister’s funding reports, Kamiwaki observed, “Mr. Koizumi lacks the attitude of making an effort to report the actual state” of his political funds.
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