Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara’s resignation over receipt of political donations from a Korean resident underscores a problematic Political Funds Control Law and politicians’ obsession with fault-finding to pull others down.

Mr. Maehara resigned Sunday after acknowledging that his funds management body received ¥50,000 annually from 2005 to 2008 and in 2010 from the Korean resident, a 72-year old female owner of a Korean barbecue restaurant in Kyoto, who has been an acquaintance of him since his middle school days. The law prohibits politicians from receiving donations from foreign nationals, foreign corporate bodies and other foreign organizations. The woman did not know about the ban and made the donations in her Japanese name.

Mr. Shoji Nishida, a Liberal Democratic Party Upper House member who took up Mr. Maehara’s funds problem in the Diet, had received a tipoff that the restaurant hangs a photo showing Mr. Maehara and the woman together. It appears that this led him to consider targeting Mr. Maehara for possible misconduct. He found that the cooking license in the restaurant carried the woman’s Korean name and later examined reports filed by Mr. Maehara’s funds management body.

It is true that Mr. Maehara violated the law. But if foreign nationals use Japanese names in making donations, it will be very difficult for any politician to check their identity. Mr. Maehara’s resignation could set a precedent for one Cabinet or Diet member after another being forced to resign after receiving small sums of donations from foreign nationals. This could cause great confusion in Japanese politics.

Article 22, Section 5 of the Political Funds Control Law, while banning political donations from foreigners or foreign entities, lets Japanese-registered firms controlled by foreign capital make political donations if they are listed on stock exchanges for at least five years. It allows room for foreign interests influencing Japanese politics. The Diet must seriously discuss whether this provision is appropriate from the viewpoint of protecting national interests and needs any change to hedge against undesirable situations.

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