Sunday, March 09, 2008

Financing Political Campaigns (or Not) Japanese Style

According to the Yomiuri, Kōji Fukuda, the 43 year old head of an organization for social welfare volunteers, decided to declare bankruptcy last month. Mr. Fukuda had incurred 69 million yen in debts when he failed as the New People’s Party Upper House candidate in Gunma Prefecture to unseat the popular guitar-riffing LDP incumbent Ichita Yamamoto in the 2007 July election. One of his creditors is suing the NPP for 4.5 million yen with the novel argument that “the party headquarters assumes the responsibilities of a principal under the Civil Code”.

Running for a Diet seat can saddle you with a hundred million yen or more in debt. Although party headquarters will defray some of the costs, the unfortunate short political career of Mr. Fukuda is an example of how the life of an unsuccessful Diet candidate can go horribly wrong. No wonder the DPJ is having trouble filling all its candidate slots for the next Lower House election.

Money may explain another phenomenon, namely the ease with which the better-endowed LDP has been able to shunt aside Koizumi Kids as the single-seat Lower House candidates in favor of Post Office rebels who have returned to the LDP fold. The LDP isn’t even bothering to give these and other single-seat losers the kind of preferential treatment in the proportional district listing in the 2005 election that enabled them to be elected anyway. I suspect that in the haste to find “assassins” and other candidates to challenge incumbents when Prime Minister Koizumi called the 2005 snap election, Team Koizumi promised and provided exceptional financial support to bring them on board. The downside for the Koizumi Kids is that, without their personal financial commitment, it is easier for the LDP diktat to chuck them in favor of Post Office privatization penitents and other more promising candidates.

More broadly, the need to finance your own political operations imposes a major barrier to new entries. Looked at from another angle, this is the main reason why there are so many legacy Diet members in the LDP and even in the DPJ. Those Diet seats are family businesses, with plenty of sunk capital, political and financial. This is in stark contrast to the Japan Communist Party and New Kōmeitō, whose political candidates rely mostly on institutional support. Public financing for political parties has only somewhat alleviated this situation.

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