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Friday, June 15, 2007
Fund bill rife with loopholes advances
By MASAMI ITO
The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday criticized as "full of holes" that obliges politicians' fund-management bodies to report expenditures over 50,000 yen, as the ruling coalition scrambled to mitigate the fallout from the May suicide of farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party are trying to pass as many "reform" bills as possible before the Diet session closes on June 23 to draw the curtains on its many scandals, which have sent Abe's public support ratings plummeting since he took office last year.
Matsuoka was under fire in part because his fund management body reported enormous office expenses despite using a rent-free office that was exempt from paying utilities.
The loophole-laden bill to revise the Political Funds Control Law was rammed through the Lower House by the LDP and junior coalition partner New Komeito, which ignored the opposition camp's calls for debate on more thorough measures. It is expected to clear the less influential Upper House by the end of the session.
"There is nothing else to say about the bill but that it is full of loopholes," said Katsuya Okada of the Democratic Party of Japan. "The ruling bloc is deceiving the general public by saying enactment of this bill is a reform."
Under current law, lawmakers do not need to report office expenditures, including utility fees, in great detail.
Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of political science at Nihon University and an expert on the political funds issue, called the bill "pointless."
The opposition parties pointed out that one of the bill's major loopholes allows the sums listed in receipts to be divided so they all fall under 50,000 yen.
Iwai also pointed out that the ruling bloc's bill stipulates that only political fund-management bodies are obliged to report expenditures. While each politician is entitled by law to have only one such group, they are also allowed to have an unlimited number of "political support groups" whose expenses are not scrutinized. Estimates put total political organizations at about 70,000.
"The bill just ensures that the political fund-management bodies remain clean while (expenditures politicians want to hide) can be shifted to other political organizations," Iwai said.
The DPJ's own version of the bill, submitted in early March, would have required all political organizations — not just fund-management bodies — to report expenditures over 10,000 yen.