National / Politics | KANSAI PERSPECTIVE

New website to help track Diet members' money trails

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Traditionally, one succeeded in Japan as a politician by ensuring strength in just three areas: money, connections and popularity. Money, in the form of campaign funds that were returned to supporters via all manner of public works’ projects, was — and remains — the most important.

But journalists, scholars and interested members of the public hoping to follow the money trail to its sources have been confronted with daunting amounts of time-consuming paperwork.

Under the Political Funds Control Law, all Diet members must report their sources of income. But the amount of time needed to track down who gave what to whom has been seen as a considerable obstacle.

In an effort to simplify the process of tracing the funds, an Osaka-based nonprofit organization recently announced that it will create an online group dedicated to letting any member of the public follow the money.

Starting Oct. 21, the group, which calls itself Japan Center For Money and Politics Foundation in English, will post online the reports of about 2,200 political organizations donating to politicians in both chambers of the Diet. There will also be online explanations of the law regarding political funds, as well as plans to offer training sessions on the most efficient ways of using the site.

Visitors to the site will be able to easily look up politicians such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and see the names of political groups that support them. They can then check to see how much each group has donated over the years, and then download a report in PDF form.

While a group’s name alone can often point to the politicians they support, some are so vaguely worded that it is nearly impossible for the uninitiated to connect a group to a specific lawmaker. The new website is designed to make such a search easier.

While it is unlikely to solve the old problem of money politics, the site will be one more tool for those working to determine who is behind the cash.

The website, in Japanese only, will launch Oct. 21 at openpolitics.or.jp

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