Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Thoughts on the Hokkyoso Political Donations Scandal

Over at Twisting Flowers Ethan Chua has an overview of the Hokkyoso political donations scandal engulfing Democratic Party of Japan member Kobayashi Chiyomi. While it seems impossible to believe that Hokkaido Teachers' union representatives, many of whom held high positions in the Kobayashi campaign headquarters, were unaware of the campaign finance law forbidding donations by organizations to individual campaigns, the real rascal here seems to be Kimura Michiru, the Kobayashi campaign's accountant. When asked why he placed the four rounds of direct donations from the Hokkaido teachers's union in a separate secret bank account, he replied, "Well, I had reason to believe the donations were illegal."

Whatever happened to refusing to accept the donation, telling the union representatives, "I'm sorry; I can't take that. It's illegal."? Or, conversely, accepting one's professional responsibility of identifying oneself as a co-conspirator an attempt to circumvent campaign finance laws?

Kimura hereby adds his name to the ever-burgeoning assembly, the "Japan League of Unhelpful Accountants."

While the eruption of yet another DPJ political funds scandal would normally redound to the opposition's benefit, there are extenuating circumstances here that could conceivably turn Kobayashi's predicament into a plus for the DPJ.

First, the teacher's unions normally ally themselves not with the DPJ but with the Japan Communist Party. Right wingers have indeed long insisted that the national umbrella Japan Teachers' Union (Nihon Kyōshokuin Kumiai, or Nikkyōso) is nothing more than a JCP recruitment and organizing committee. The Communists, normally the loudest voices on political corruption issues, have indeed remained remarkably subdued about Kobayashi's problems, probably in order to avoid drawing any more attention to the subject of where exactly the nation's teachers unions have been sending their money.

Second, the Hokkyoso scandal gives added impetus to one of the DPJ's signature legislative proposals: a ban on all corporate and non-profit organization donations to political campaigns. This proposal is detested by the Liberal Democratic Party, which due to its minority status is now even more dependent on corporate and organizational giving than ever. The ban is strongly supported, however, by the LDP's former coalition partner the New Komeito, and support/opposition to the ban has emerged the wedge issue driving the two former allied parties apart.

If Kobayashi's problems trigger a precipitous passage of a draconian campaign finance law reform detrimental to the LDP's fundraising efforts, and a fracture of LDP-New Komeito comity, then the DPJ leadership will likely count the whole affair as a worthy sacrifice of a few percentage points of party support.

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