Former Prime Minister Taro Aso, ruling party power broker Ichiro Ozawa and industry minister Yukio Edano were among the 10 lawmakers most favored by Tokyo Electric Power Co. in buying tickets to their fund-raisers.
TEPCO has spent more than 50 million yen ($650,000) a year on tickets to fund-raising parties for nearly 100 Diet members, while refraining from making political donations since 1974.
The utility limited each purchase to 200,000 yen or less so that it would not have to appear on politicians’ political fund reports.
The 10 lawmakers who were ranked high during the several years through 2010 are all Lower House members.
In addition to Aso, Akira Amari, Tadamori Oshima, Shigeru Ishiba and Nobuteru Ishihara belong to the Liberal Democratic Party, which was in power until 2009.
Kaoru Yosano, an independent, and Takeo Hiranuma, of the Sunrise Party of Japan, were formerly with the LDP.
Besides Edano, Amari, Yosano and Hiranuma all served as industry minister, who oversees the electric power industry.
TEPCO’s general affairs department evaluated Diet members’ importance and contribution for the electric power industry and determined the purchase amounts based on the assessments, according to senior company officials.
TEPCO attached importance to Aso and Yosano as “long-time sympathizers for the electric power industry.”
Amari was credited with working for the 2002 enactment of the fundamental law of energy policy, which requires the government to establish a basic plan for overall energy policy.
Oshima, the LDP vice president, is a veteran from a constituency in Aomori Prefecture, home to many nuclear power facilities.
Ishiba, a former LDP policy chief, and Ishihara, the LDP secretary-general, were considered “influential party leaders.”
TEPCO kept its distance from the Democratic Party of Japan because labor unions of electric power companies are a major support base for the party.
Still, the company bought tickets for fund-raisers of influential politicians, particularly Edano, Yoshito Sengoku, acting DPJ policy chief, and Ozawa, a former DPJ president.
TEPCO said ticket purchases do not conflict with its policy of refraining from making political donations.
The company said the purchases are different from donations because it is paying for food and drinks served.
Hiroshi Kamiwaki, a professor specializing in the Constitution at Kobe Gakuin University’s Graduate School of Law, disagrees.
“(Buying) party tickets is tantamount to corporate donations because politicians take 80 to 90 percent of sales excluding costs and expenses,” said Kamiwaki, co-leader of an ombudsman group examining political funds.
Kamiwaki said it has become imperative to improve the transparency of political donations after the Fukushima nuclear accident because the cozy ties between utilities and politicians created the myth of safe nuclear power.
TEPCO bought tickets to fund-raisers at the request of aides to politicians, many from TEPCO’s service area and prefectures where nuclear power facilities were located and planned. The events were held by organizations related to those politicians.
A former aide to a Lower House member, who is not among the 10 top-ranked politicians, said the lawmaker’s organization held one large party and several “study meetings” a year until the mid-2000s and TEPCO bought tickets “every time.”
Called seminars, study meetings are small in scale, with only 40 to 50 people attending. But the former aide said the events are a ready source of easy cash because only a cake and coffee are served while tickets sell for 20,000 yen each.
The former aide also said the number of TEPCO executives and employees who attended a fund-raising party was always fewer than the number of tickets.
“We will be in trouble if the same number of people turn up. It will cost more,” the source said.
TEPCO’s public relations department declined to discuss specifics of ticket purchases.
The Asahi Shimbun tried to contact the 10 lawmakers for comment.
The offices of Aso, Amari, Ishihara, Hiranuma, Sengoku, Edano and Ozawa stated to the effect that ticket purchases were processed and reported appropriately based on the Political Fund Control Law.
Ishiba’s office said TEPCO bought tickets several times a year until 2009, with each purchase up to 200,000 yen, and once in 2010.
Yosano’s office said TEPCO has bought tickets because the lawmaker’s relationship with the company goes back a long way.
Oshima’s office did not respond.
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