Until about a month ago, questions on the use of political funds and the accuracy of mandatory reports on such funds had been a hot political issue. But efforts to dispel public suspicions about issues involving money and politics are not moving fast enough. The fault mainly lies with political leaders, especially Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. After administrative reform minister Genichiro Sata resigned in December 2006 over accounting irregularities, it surfaced that five Cabinet ministers and two Liberal Democratic Party officials had declared a combined 689 million yen as “office expenses” although their political fund management organizations are housed inside the rent-free Diet office building

Farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka’s political fund management body, also housed in the building, infamously reported that it spent 28.8 million yen on “utilities” for five years through 2005. He ludicrously blamed the high costs on the use of a water purifier.

Within the ruling coalition, Komeito proposed a law revision requiring politicians to attach to fund reports receipts for expenditures of 50,000 yen or more for office, utilities and miscellaneous expenses. Some LDP lawmakers resisted the proposal, citing freedom of political activities and privacy, but the LDP is now poised to accept it. Nonetheless, Mr. Abe takes the position that even if the Political Funds Control Law is revised, Mr. Matsuoka does not have to provide a full explanation of his 28.8 million yen “utilities” bill.

Democratic Party of Japan politicians are not free of suspicion, either. Mr. Giichi Tsunoda resigned as Upper House vice president over irregularities in fund reports. DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa’s fund-management organization controversially spent 415 million yen on property. Former justice minister Hiroshi Nakai’s funding body reported 18.5 million yen as “utility expenditures” although it used the money for other purposes. Unlike Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Nakai, however, LDP politicians have failed to give detailed explanations of their spending. The DPJ has begun to keep receipts for spending of 10,000 yen or more for five years and has submitted a bill to make the practice binding for all. If political leaders have the will to do so, it would not be difficult to revise the law to ensure sufficient transparency.

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