An Asahi Shimbun examination of political funding reports for 2016 has revealed a disturbing lack of transparency in the way many politicians are collecting donations through fund-raising parties.

Seventeen members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet raised a combined 740 million yen ($6.57 million) in 2016 by throwing 56 fund-raising parties while they were in office, according to the reports examined.

Nearly 700 million yen, or 94 percent of the total, came from the sale of party tickets to unidentified individuals, organizations and businesses. This is a fact that raises serious doubts about the legitimacy of the money these lawmakers raised.

None of the ticket purchasers was named in political funds reports for 26 of the 56 functions.

None of the ticket purchasers were identified in the reports of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and then-Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who raised 76 million yen and 24 million yen, respectively, during the year.

These political contributions are not open to public scrutiny because the Political Fund Control Law doesn’t require politicians to identify individuals or businesses who purchased tickets for their fund-raising parties in their reports unless their total payments exceed 200,000 yen for each event.

The law, on the other hand, requires politicians to enter the names of all individuals or businesses who contributed more than 50,000 yen per year.

The Asahi Shimbun’s tally showed that the names of contributors or addresses were identified for 93 percent of some 580 million yen the 17 Cabinet members received in the year.

Fund-raising parties apparently offer a convenient, anonymous channel for political donations. Politicians can use this avenue to also effectively collect donations from companies that are subject to restrictions on political contributions because of such reasons as receiving state subsidies.

Because of these advantages for both politicians and political donors, fund-raising parties are becoming the main source of revenue for political fund management organizations.

As things now stand, such parties can only be described as a backdoor way to raise political funds that runs counter to the trend toward greater transparency in the flow of money into politics. This points to the existence of a major loophole in the law to regulate political contributions.

At the beginning of its text, the Political Fund Control Law says its purpose is to “ensure the openness and fairness of political activities” by subjecting them to “constant public monitoring and criticism.”

All donations to politicians should be open to the public.

At the very least, the law should be revised to require legislators to name in their political funds reports all purchasers of tickets for their fund-raising parties who have paid more than 50,000 yen in total as they have to identify their donors contributing in excess of 50,000 yen annually.

The members of the Abe Cabinet who are raising millions of yen through parties may also be violating the code of conduct for ministers, which requires “voluntary restrictions” on large-scale fund-raisers.

This is a measure to secure transparency and neutrality in the political activities of ministers, who have enormous official authority.

But Abe himself raised 68 million yen through only three breakfast events, while Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso notched up 63.6 million yen through just one fund-raising event. Do they claim these don’t qualify as “large-scale” fund-raisers?

All political parties except for the Japanese Communist Party receive a total of more than 30 billion yen annually in tax-financed state subsidies.

Fund-raising parties are gaining in popularity in both the ruling and opposition camps.

That means political parties are blatantly ignoring the calls for greater transparency in political fund-raising and receiving both tax-financed subsidies and contributions.

This fund-raising scheme should not be allowed to continue.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 5