Photo/IllutrationA fund-raising party organized by an Upper House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in November 2018 (The Asahi Shimbun)

The Political Funds Control Law is riddled with so many loopholes that it is often derided as “zaru ho” (law like a perforated basket).

Unless these flaws are corrected, the law cannot serve its purpose, which is to secure fair and above-board political fund-raising.

The Diet needs to take steps to plug these damaging legal holes to inject greater transparency into the flow of money into politics, including stronger regulations on political fund-raising parties, which are providing increasingly more of the cash raised by politicians.

The internal affairs ministry has published financial statements for 2018 submitted by political organizations, which show political parties and fund management organizations raised a total of 108.4 billion yen ($998.29 million), up 2.5 percent from 2017.

While political contributions decreased slightly, income from fund-raising parties grew 15 percent.

It is easy to imagine the reason for the spike in the amount of money raised by such parties.

The law requires politicians to disclose in their financial reports the names of individuals and corporations that donate more than 50,000 yen in any year to them. But they are not required to report the names of people or organizations that pay to attend their fund-raisers as long as the amount paid for one such event is 200,000 yen or less.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, for instance, has raised a growing amount of money through such parties year after year since he assumed the post in 2012.

He held 10 fund-raisers in 2018, raising some 81 million yen in total.

But none of the purchasers of tickets for his parties has been disclosed on the grounds that nobody bought more than 200,000 yen worth of tickets for any one of the events held to raise funds for the ruling party politician.

This indicates that fund-raising parties offer a convenient way for politicians to collect funds without disclosing where they came from.

Parties also serve as a backdoor way for individual politicians to raise funds from companies and other organizations, which are allowed to make political donations only to political parties. Companies and other organizations, however, are allowed to buy tickets for fund-raisers.

Corporations that have received state subsidies, money-losing corporations, foreigners and foreign corporations are all banned from making political contributions but they are not prohibited from buying tickets for fund-raisers.

The regulations on political donations and those concerning purchases of tickets for parties held by politicians are so sharply different even though both serve basically the same purpose--raising funds for politicians.

This does not make sense.

At the very least, the law should be revised to lower the minimum amount of payments for party tickets that is subject to the disclosure requirement to the level applied to donations.

Fund-raising parties, however, should not be the only topic for debate on reform of the rules concerning reporting on political funds.

When a program to provide state subsidies to political parties was introduced, it was assumed that donations by companies and other organizations would be totally banned.

But they are still allowed to make contributions to political parties and their local chapters. This exemption makes no sense, either.

It is also necessary to require politicians to integrate their fund management bodies into one entity to ensure transparency in their fund-raising activities.

Political organizations are required to save their annual financial reports for only three years. This hampers efforts to check the fund-raising operations by politicians and political parties in the past.

New trends and technologies such as crowdfunding and cryptocurrencies pose new challenges for tracking the flow of political funds.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly claimed that there is nothing wrong with the fact that his political funding report did not refer to a party held by his support group on the eve of attending a cherry blossom viewing event that he hosted.

But his claim only suggests that he does not understand the objectives of the Political Funds Control law.

The principal purpose of the law is to place political activities under “a constant monitoring and critical review by the public.”

Lawmakers have a duty to make regular reviews of the law to identify and fix any shortcomings to make it a better tool to achieve the goal.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 8