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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ruling bloc gets office expense bill past panel

Staff writer

Amid strong protests, the ruling coalition rammed through a House of Representatives panel Wednesday a bill requiring that lawmakers' fund management bodies report all office expenses exceeding 50,000 yen, hoping to quell the furor over last month's suicide of corruption scandal-tainted farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka.

News photo
Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers attempt to block the passage of a bill to revise the Political Funds Control Law during a Lower House panel meeting Wednesday. KYODO PHOTO

The bill by the ruling bloc — the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito — to revise the Political Funds Control Law was submitted to the Diet on May 30, just two days after the suicide of Matsuoka, who had been under fire in part for listing extremely high office expenses for a rent-free office supplied by the government that had all utilities paid for.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, had submitted its own bill two months ago that would have required reporting of any expenses topping 10,000 yen by all political bodies linked with lawmakers, not just fund management groups. That bill was voted down Wednesday by the ruling bloc in the same panel session.

The opposition parties wanted more time for the special committee on political ethics to debate the ruling bloc's bill, but the LDP and New Komeito forced a vote.

The bill requires that political fund management bodies itemize all expenses of 50,000 yen or more in political funds reports and attach receipts. Currently, lawmakers do not have to itemize office expenses, including rent and utilities.

The opposition claims the ruling bloc's bill is useless because it only requires fund management groups to itemize large office expenditures. Politicians are only allowed to have one fund management group under the law, but can have as many support groups as they want. There are about 70,000 political organizations nationwide, including these support groups.

The opposition camp says if the revision is enacted, politicians will simply transfer money into their other groups that are not required to itemize office expenses.

The DPJ bill would have required all political organizations to itemize and attach receipts for all expenditures of 10,000 yen or more.

"The (ruling bloc's) bill is full of holes," Ritsuo Hosokawa of the DPJ said after it was passed.

"Targeting only the political funds management bodies leaves the rest of the political organizations free to do whatever they like."

The bill only names political fund management bodies, which by law are limited to only one per politician.

The LDP and New Komeito, however, have argued that including all 70,000 political organizations in the bill is unrealistic due to the reams of paperwork it would generate.

The Lower House is set to pass the bill Thursday and its enactment into law is expected by the June 23 end of the Diet session.

For related stories:
Embattled farm minister kills himself at residence
Ozawa challenges Abe on office outlays

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