Monday, October 13, 2008

Multilevel Marketing Money Trips Up DPJ Backbencher

Not all multilevel marketing is disrespected in Japan. Traditional arts such as ikebana (flower arrangement) and sado (ceremonial tea) have long been run on the same principle as Amway. However, maruchi shoho, as multilevel marketing is called here, is considered a disreputable line of business, only a notch above outright fraud. Regulated under the Act regarding Specified Trading Practices, efforts have been under way to clean up the maruchi shoho industry. Yukichi Maeda, a third-term DPJ Lower House member from the Tokai proportional district, has been at the forefront of such attempts, serving as executive officer for a political caucus dedicated to the cause and as the advisor to a political action committee. As such, Mr. Maeda has been using question time in the Diet to play up the healthier aspects of maruchi shoho and call for business interests to be represented in a government advisory council.

So far, so good. Mr. Maeda has also been receiving political contributions from the industry since he began championing their cause in the Diet four years ago. But that too, is par for the course. In fact, the 1.6 million yen reported over four years is a paltry sum.

If only. During the same period, Mr. Maeda’s political organizations (one of which is the DPJ local chapter, which he heads) had received (and reported) another 9.96 million yen from maruchi shoho businesses for giving “talks”, presumably by Mr. Maeda himself. People are wondering if this money does not count as camouflaged political donations from businesses to individual politicians, which under political financing law is illegal. One of the contributors received 3-month timeout last year for improper business practices.

Mr. Maeda is a backbencher* and the LDP for obvious reasons will not want to go too deeply into a pissing match over money-for-influence allegations, but it’s the kind of story that the media love and the DPJ does not want to hear heading into the election. The DPJ stands up for the little guy, the LDP is in the tank for big business and the bureaucracy: Mr. Maeda’s actions undermine this message. Yukio Hatoyama, stomping the sewer covers in faraway Sendai in preparation for the general election, has been forced to play defense in a press conference there. In a lucky stroke for the DPJ, the story broke in the Asahi, on a holiday Monday. Thus, it will be free of the hard-copy news cycle until the Tuesday evening editions, by which time the media will have other, bigger fish to fry.

* According to Wikipedia, the five-member political caucus, consisting of DPJ members and its allies until it was abruptly disbanded in the wake of the revelations, included Kenji Yamaoka, the PDJ’s Diet Affairs Committee chairman and equivalent of a parliamentary whip, as the advisor.

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