The Japan Times  Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Maehara donation trap easy to fall into, and rectifiable

Staff writers
The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration finds itself again on the brink, following Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara's resignation Sunday for taking illegal donations from a foreign resident who has a Japanese name.

Experts say Maehara was a casualty of a law that sets an unreasonably high demand and suggest other lawmakers may also be treading on thin ice without even knowing it.

"To check every donation from every individual and the background of each is difficult," Kobe Gakuin University professor Hiroshi Kamiwaki told The Japan Times. The expert on political finances added that it becomes much trickier in cases where non-Japanese residing in Japan with Japanese names are making contributions.

Article 22 of the Political Funds Control Law prohibits donations from non-Japanese individuals or entities. It is designed to prevent lawmakers from being influenced by foreigners. Maehara resigned two days after it became public that he received \250,000 in donations from a South Korean woman living in Kyoto.

The woman, whom Maehara has known since childhood, is an ethnic Korean who never became a naturalized citizen but uses a Japanese name. She has reportedly said she was unaware of the ban on foreign nationals making political donations.

Most countries prohibit direct or indirect donations from a foreign national to a lawmaker. U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign office in 2008 was forced to return contributions from a Kenyan relative of Obama, because foreigners who don't have a Green Card are barred by law from donating to presidential campaigns.

In its Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act, the U.K. limits permissible donors to individuals listed on electoral registers, effectively making foreign nationals ineligible to donate.

Maehara's time bomb went off at a critical point for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who is hanging by a thread due to low public support and is being pressured by the opposition to dissolve the Lower House. Maehara also cut his stint short at a time when Washington and Tokyo are at a crucial stage over the relocation of the Futenma base in Okinawa.

"Maehara's mistake may deserve criticism, but (the donation) is not something that poses a serious threat. Clearly it isn't a case worth damaging Japan's ties with the U.S.," said Fusao Ushiro, a professor of political science at Nagoya University.

Kobe Gakuin University's Kamiwaki noted that Maehara's case sets a precedent that will force all lawmakers to check every donation in detail regardless of amount — and cost them their job if any stone is left unturned.

Speculation is rife that several lawmakers, in both the ruling and the opposition camps, may also unknowingly have received donations similar to those that undid Maehara.

In fact, Maehara is not the first to violate the law. A similar case came to light in 2007 shortly before Yasuo Fukuda became prime minister. It was revealed that a \200,000 donation to his camp came from a pachinko company run by an ethnic North Korean residing in Japan.

Fukuda quickly returned the money, claimed he was unaware of the donor's nationality and the incident was quickly dismissed. He headed the Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling party at the time. Now that it is in the opposition, the LDP is looking to exploit any chance to discredit the DPJ.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Monday that anyone could unwittingly get donations from non-Japanese.

Asked if there was any chance he was receiving an illegitimate donation, Edano said he was unaware of any.

Pundits say the law itself may be in need of an overhaul.

The Political Funds Control Law bans donations from non-Japanese but allows donations from firms that are owned up to 49 percent by foreigners in terms of outstanding shares.

Considering the amount of money and the influence it could have on national politics, corporate donations should be of a much higher concern, Kobe Gakuin University's Kamiwaki said.

Donations from non-Japanese residents will surely be up for discussion in view of the DPJ proposal to grant local voting rights to permanent foreign residents, he said.

Regulating online donations is also a new challenge, because it only takes several clicks and a credit card to contribute to a lawmaker's campaign fund. Websites, including Rakuten Seiji, require a donor nationality confirmation, but such explanations are only in Japanese.

"To keep everything watertight is extremely difficult, if not impossible," a secretary in charge of accounting for an LDP lawmaker in the Lower House told The Japan Times. The secretary, who asked to remain anonymous, said his office goes through a couple of hundred donations from individuals each year.

In addition to asking donors if they are Japanese, preventive steps include double-checking contributions from overseas or from individuals with non-Japanese names.

"It would be impossible to spot an illegal donation if we are given false information," he said, indicating only a thorough nationality check would suffice.

And that is why, as arduous as the task may be and as demanding as regulations are, Maehara's slipup could have been avoided.

"This was all about Maehara being extremely careless," the secretary said.

韓国の国民日報2011.10.12 22:18

[정치자금 겉과 속] 日 정치자금 감시하는 2인… 가미와키 교수와 도쿄신문 사사가세 기자

시민단체 이끄는 가미와키 교수

잦은 정치자금 비리사건에 일본 지식인도 수수방관하진 않았다. 2002년 3월 학자와 변호사, 공인회계사 등 6명은 정치자금의 수입과 지출을 감시하는 전문 시민단체로 ‘정치자금 옴부즈맨’을 발족했다. 이 단체의 공동대표를 맡고 있는 가미와키 히로시(上脇博之·왼쪽 사진) 고베대학 법과대학원 교수는 “헌법연구자로 정당에 관련된 헌법문제를 연구하고 있다”며 “일본도 보통선거를 실시하고 있으니 의회제 민주주의 국가라고 할 수 있지만 정치자금에 의해 정치와 선거과정이 왜곡되고 있어 감시활동을 시작했다”고 말했다.

자원봉사 형식으로 진행되는 감시활동은 정치자금 수입지출 보고서를 중심으로 전개된다. 일본 총무성이 정치자금 수입지출 보고서를 공표하면 언론의 분석 보도에 협조하거나 직접 의심이 가는 부분을 정보공개 청구를 통해 확인하는 작업을 병행하고 있다.

국민일보가 한국의 국회의원 전원의 정치자금 씀씀이를 분석, 보도한 데 대해서는 놀라움을 표시했다. 그는 “일본도 언론의 고발기사 등에 힘입어 정치자금 규정법이 조금씩 개선되고 있지만 아직까지 의회제 민주주의에 상응한다고 보기엔 미흡하다”고 했다.

도쿄신문 사사가세 기자

홋카이도(北海道)의 다카하시 하루미(高橋はるみ) 지사는 일본 내에서도 원자력발전 찬성론자로 유명하다. 지난 8월에는 홋카이도전력회사의 원전3호기 전력 생산을 전격적으로 용인해줬을 정도다. 다카하시 지사의 원전 사랑은 이유가 있었다. 홋카이도전력회사는 다카하시 지사에 거액의 정치후원금을 대고 있었다. 이 같은 사실은 도쿄신문 특별보도부가 다카하시 지사의 정치자금 수입지출 보고서를 분석한 결과를 보도하면서 드러났다. 특별보도부는 정치, 경제, 사회부서에서 15년 이상 관록이 붙은 기자 13명이 모인 탐사보도팀이다.

지난 8월 17일자로 관련기사를 작성한 사사가세 유지(篠ヶ麝柑·오른쪽 사진) 기자는 “지방의 정치자금 비리는 언론에 공개되지 않고 묻히는 경우가 있다”며 “제도적으로 검증이 어려운 이유는 총무성에 등록되지 않고, 지방자치단체에만 등록해 활동하기 때문”이라고 설명했다. 자민당 출신으로 현재 무소속인 다카하시 지사의 후원회는 홋카이도에 등록돼 회계 내역조차 온라인으로 공개하지 않는 사각지대에 놓여 있다는 것.

보도 직후 다카하시 지사는 “합법적인 정치자금”이라고 해명했다. 그러나 사사가세 기자는 “다카하시 지사 후원회 대표가 홋카이도전력 회장이라는 점은 묵과할 수 없는 문제점”이라며 재반박했다.

도쿄=탐사기획팀 indepth@kmib.co.kr

정승훈 차장 shjung@kmib.co.kr 김지방 차장 fattykim@kmib.co.kr 정동권 기자 danchung@kmib.co.kr