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A fter a nine-year break, Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) this year is resuming its role in mediating political donations from affiliated companies. The aim, of course, is to increase its influence on politics. In other words, Nippon Keidanren is seeking to sway politics with the policy of “we pay the money, so we should have a say.”

As the nation’s largest business organization, however, Nippon Keidanren will have to maintain a certain degree of self-imposed restraint in influencing politics with financial power. Otherwise, an excessive move toward having a bigger say in politics could provoke public antipathy. Even more than before, business people and business circles must try to keep harmony with civil society and to exercise good conscience and self-control as members of that society.

Certainly companies assist people’s lives by supplying products and services that people need, and they also provide employment opportunities. The basic goal of business organizations, which is to make profits, remains unchanged. If the pursuit of profits goes too far, though, it may threaten people’s lives. A good example of this was the problem of pollution in the 1970s, when the discharge of exhaust gas and pollutants caused illness and suffering among local residents.

More recently, consumers reacted furiously to such scandals as the falsification of beef labels and the concealment of defective automobiles, which rocked the management foundations of the companies concerned. Such situations certainly do not help the corporate image. Companies must always act according to the rules of civil society. In resuming Nippon Keidanren’s mediation in political donations, business leaders must demonstrate full awareness of this bottom line.

As a new method for mediating political donations, Nippon Keidanren says it will provide guidelines as a reference for companies and industrial organizations when they make political donations. These guidelines will comprise evaluations of the policies of political parties, indicating their practical strengths and track records.

After referring to these guidelines, companies and organizations will independently decide on the recipients and the amounts of their donations.

Until 1993, when the former Keidanren ceased its mediation role, donation quotas were assigned to each industrial organization such as the Japan Iron and Steel Federation and the Federation of Electric Power Companies. Huge amounts were collected from affiliated companies, and then Keidanren distributed the donations through the National Political Association to political parties including the Liberal Democratic Party and the now-disbanded Democratic Socialist Party.

Compared with that setup, the new mechanism is designed to give Nippon Keidanren only a minor role. The act of mediation is indirect, and the independent judgments of companies and industrial organizations are respected. It is a soft, moderate and transparent form of mediation.

In practice, however, the possibility exists that the business world may try to see its goals realized by having Nippon Keidanren unify and channel donations exclusively to those parties that accept its demands — not only in such areas as tax reform and industrial policies but also in diplomatic, defense and security areas. If that happened, the new donation mechanism would be little different from the old one, in which the business world managed donations in a unified manner.

The business world in postwar Japan has a history of privately and publicly influencing political events, including the 1955 merger of the Liberal Party and the Japan Democratic Party to form the LDP and the selection of prime ministers. As a weapon to further its purpose, it supplied abundant funds to parties and individual politicians.

At present, donations by companies and industrial organizations to individual politicians are prohibited by law, and it is unknown just how much influence the business circles now have. But it can be expected that the business world will call for the establishment of a stable “two-party system” that enables governmental change between two major parties, and will actively participate in political realignment.

Both politically and economically, stagnation grips Japan as it never has before in the postwar period. The business world is becoming increasingly irritated and frustrated with the government’s structural reform plans, which have yet to produce any fruit. The resumption of mediation in political donations can help make a breakthrough in this impasse.

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