Younger lawmakers are increasingly turning to crowdfunding as a way of raising money to finance their political activities.
Ryota Kimura, a 30-year-old member of the Hirakata Municipal Assembly in Osaka Prefecture, recently asked for ¥100,000 on an online crowdfunding site to cover some of the cost of distributing quarterly reports on his activities to all households in the city. The reports cost ¥1.8 million annually.
In his prospectus, Kimura said the donations would help distribute information to “raise interest in politics” among citizens.
Although he initially received no response, donations began coming in. He has since met his target and continues to receive donations.
Crowdfunding is a means of rasing funds from online supporters to finance an initiative.
The crowdfunding site used by Hirata was opened in March by Dot-jp, a nonprofit organization set up to enhance political awareness and raise voter turnout among young people. Dot-jp advises lawmakers not to infringe on the public office election law and the political fund control law when they raise funds through the site. Funds collected are entered as “operating income” in their reports on political funds.
Legislators post a purpose and a fundraising target, collecting money in return for “gifts.” An autograph costs ¥1,000 and dinner costs ¥10,000. If they fail to reach their target within 90 days, no funds are deposited in their accounts.
To date, 12 current and aspiring lawmakers and one group of politicians have sought to raise sums ranging from ¥50,000 to ¥5 million. Five of the projects have reached their targets.
Fumiaki Kobayashi, a 31-year-old House of Representative member of the Liberal Democratic Party from Hiroshima Prefecture, proposed a plan to collect ¥5 million to send an ambulance to a typhoon-hit region of the Philippines.
Although the amount of funds collected by Kobayashi to date remains short of the target, gifts being offered as part of the fundraising campaign could help change that. Haruka Kohara, a 26-year-old Hiroshima-born former member of the AKB48 all-female chorus and dance troupe, has offered her autographed stage outfit and other souvenirs to help support Kobayashi’s cause.
“The way this kind of support expands is one of the advantages of the Internet,” Kobayashi said.
Not all lawmakers are satisfied with their own efforts. An aide to one whose appeal for funds has received no donations in two months, said, “The price of over ¥10,000 we’ve set for our gift is too high and we should have promoted our initiative more actively.”
Donors apparently respond most to popular lawmakers, to attractive incentives and to the compelling use of the Internet. The key seems to be to “lure as many contributors as possible in the first week” so that campaigns can generate word-of-mouth publicity, according to one member of Dot-jp.
However, the practice of raising political donations over the Internet is still in its early stages and has not readily taken hold in Japan, said Yasunori Sone, a professor of political science at Keio University.
Legislators need to exercise their “ingenuity” to turn crowdfunding into an accepted tool for collecting political funds, Sone said.