Media Mix, Dec. 4, 2021

Ishin no Kai leader Ichiro Matsui

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about Ishin no Kai’s (the Japan Innovation Party) attempt to regulate the distribution to Diet members of funds that cover expenses for mail, correspondence, and transportation, familiarly called buntsuhi. At the time the column was written and edited it wasn’t clear what the proposed bill would look like, but the main idea would be to replace a lump monthly allowance of ¥1 million, which is paid regardless of how many days a lawmaker works in a month, with a daily allowance that only covers days worked. Also, receipts would have to accompany a report of how the money was spent, which is not required now. The media found the whole matter suspicious because in the past some members of Ishin, which is based in Osaka but wants to become one of the main national opposition parties, used the buntsuhi to line their own pockets by “donating” leftover funds to their political support groups, a practice that at least one expert says is illegal. This is the so-called “boomerang” effect the media talked about, namely that the party’s complaint about the wastefulness of how buntsuhi is administered came back to hit them after their own use of the money was scrutinized. To me, the practice didn’t indicate rank hypocrisy as much as it showed how the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. At the local level, Ishin’s reputation has been built on fiscal reform, and they pounced on the buntsuhi issue as an easy means of spreading their cost-cutting gospel nationwide. They just neglected to look in their own house first.

Last week, the party announced it was submitting its bill to revise the rules for buntsuhi, but on Friday, apparently, the revision hit a wall. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party also had its own revision in mind and apparently the two parties didn’t see eye-to-eye on how to proceed, so it’s stalled for the time being. It’s important to note that while Ishin is technically an opposition party, its conservative philosophy is closer to that of the LDP than it is to other opposition parties, and that the transfer of leftover buntsuhi funds to political support groups is not limited to some Ishin members. It’s obvious from media reports that some LDP members do it as well. It’s just that they didn’t talk previously about doing away with the system, so there was less of a boomerang effect. Having the two parties oversee a revision of the allowance allocation may strike some people as an example of the foxes appointing themselves the guardians of the henhouse, but, again, that’s too simplistic. They obviously think the system needs to be overhauled, and it does. But other opposition parties don’t seem to have a problem accounting for how they spend their buntsuhi. As mentioned in the column, the Japan Communist Party makes a point of posting on their home page how their members spend it and how much they return to the treasury. They are, in essence, already following the protocols that Ishin was going to propose in its revision. Why they and the LDP can’t come to an agreement about a revision deserves more attention. 

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