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Assemblyman’s Privilege: Political Activity Funds

YAMAMOTO Yoichi (PPPC Visiting Researcher)

Ryutaro Nonomura, who became an international laughingstock for his emotional outburst at a news conference, resigned as Hyogo prefectural assemblyman on July 11. But this must not be an end; rather, it should be considered as an opportunity to drastically review the way of political activity funds in both the national and local assemblies.

The starting was that Nonomura spent 3 million yen of political activity funds for 195 long-distance, one-day business trips he supposedly made in fiscal 2013 that were concentrated in the Kinosaki hot spring resort in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, and three other locations. After being asked by reporters about his dubious spending, Nonomura captured global attentions for screaming and wailing.

Political activity fund is an expense officially allowed for local assemblyman that can be spent on office rent, personnel expense, trips, etc.; in Hyogo prefecture, the assemblyman can spend this fund up to 500 thousand yen per month and 6 million yen per year. Nonomura received 4.84 million yen in fiscal 2011 and 6 million yen in fiscal 2012 and 2013, totally 18.34 million yen in the past three years. While the unspent amount should be returned, Nonomura was spending them all. However, 3/4 of the spending lacks receipts and Nonomura reportedly provided vague answers or said, “I do not remember.”

This incident uncovered the overly lenient checks on assemblyman’s spending. The Hyogo prefecture has a provision stating receipts may not be submitted in such cases as that an assemblyman bought tickets through vending machines or in hasty. Nonomura seems to have abused the provision, but the rule doesn’t make sense as reasons not to attach the receipts because modern vending machines do have the capacity to print receipts.

It also became clear that Nonomura and others bought sheets of postage stamps. This is as problematic because they are exchangeable for cash. They should have used the postpaid mail or other services to prove the fact that they really used mails.

The assembly’s secretariat should also be accused of receiving the reports which do not indicate what the money was spent for. Any private companies would not accept such reports. Checks against the assembly must be stricter as they are funded by tax money.

As a matter of fact, the situation is better in the local assemblies although unsatisfactory. At least the reports on earnings and expenses by assemblyman are checked ex post and inappropriate expenses are to be pointed out. On the other hand, the political activity fund provided to the Diet members does not accompany obligations to report the receipts and disbursements and there is no way to investigate them.

The Diet members in both Houses are provided with 1 million yen/month. There are neither compulsory reports nor rules to return them. While younger lawmakers, often struggling for funds, spend the money for renting office or hiring personal secretaries, ample veteran lawmakers simply keep the money in their pocket as the “second salary.”

Furthermore, since it is assumed that the money is on expenses, there is no tax imposition. It means that veteran lawmakers receive 12 million yen of the net income in addition to 21 million yen of the annual income. It is nothing but a privilege.

While the rules with regard to political activity fund are under such problematic circumstances, few lawmakers voice reconsiderations on the situation. Even the opposition lawmakers, once noisy over the sexist slurs in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, have remained relatively silent over Nonomura in fear that public criticism turns against themselves.

However, the Diet members should account for all the receipts and disbursements because they are funded by tax; just like in the local assemblies. All the expenditures must be reported with receipts every year, and any unspent-amount should be returned.

It seems that Diet members and local assembly members expect that the situation calms down after Nonomura resigned. Should it not be. There is no end to this issue until the political activity funds in the Diet and local assemblies are to be revised to an appropriate extent. 

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