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A Call for Ending Corporate Political Donations

By Jasper Tolsma

SNA (Tokyo) — Political donations have been a problem for Japanese politicians for a very long time. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already has lost three of his ministers due to alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law after the reshuffle of his Cabinet in September last year, and suspicions are being raised about a fourth, Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura.

The debate on prohibiting corporate donations has been going on for more than twenty years. When political subsidies were introduced in the mid-1990s, some political parties called for a revision of the Political Funds Control Law to ban corporate donations, but the plans met heavy resistance from both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan.

The Political Funds Control Law regulates donations to political parties, but the law is ambiguous on certain issues, leaving room for loopholes. For example, under the law it is illegal for companies to donate within one year of being notified that they will receive government subsidies. However, it is not illegal for a politician to receive those donations if he or she isn’t aware of the fact that they are illegal.

Because of the recent stream of scandals and allegations, the Japan Innovation Party, the nation’s third-largest political force, has joined the call for a revamp of the Political Funds Control Law, including a complete ban on political funds. At his regular press conference this week, Secretary-General Yorihisa Matsuno stated that a change is long overdue: “We discussed this when we first implemented political subsidies, but because we haven’t progressed, politicians are able profit twice from taxpayers’ money, and that situation isn’t beneficial.”

Matsuno clarified that his party isn’t looking to prohibit all political donations, feeling that fundraising events and personal donations should still be allowed.

It is not yet clear if the Japan Innovation Party will be able to get the necessary support to be able to advance the bill in the Diet. On his website, Japan Innovation Party leader Kenji Eda called on both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan to support the bill: “There are voices within the LDP and DPJ that seem to think that prohibiting corporate donations is the suicide of democracy… but it is due time that the LDP keep the promise that they made twenty years ago.”

Several opposition parties are currently negotiating on the details of the bill before its official submission to the Diet.

Jasper Tolsma is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.