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Lobby Regulation in the Japanese Diet.

THE REGULATION of interest groups and lobbies in the Japanese national legislature, the Diet, is nearly non-existent. On the broader level of politics in Japan, there is very little direct governmental regulation of interest groups. On the other hand, there are significant restrictions, at least on paper, on the use of money by interest groups in Japanese politics. There are also rules on election campaigns which rank as some of the most restrictive in the democratic world. Thus, Japan has the interesting contrast of excessively restricted election campaigns and almost completely unregulated interest group campaigns.

Japan is not an interest group society similar to that found in the United States where such groups roam the political landscape, impacting all levels of politics with an vast bag of issues, strategies and tactics.(1) Japanese interest groups tend to follow the European model of corporatist politics with the access to governmental decision-making based on cemented long-term relationships.(2) Where Japan differs extensively from the European model is the way it regulates access of interest groups to its national legislature. Putting it quite simply, there are almost no formal restrictions.

Some scholars have looked at the nature of Japanese post-1945 democracy and have noted that citizens play a comparatively small role in the political system as compared to other democratic societies in the developed world. Some have called Japan `a spectator democracy' because its citizens largely watch the political game being played by the `professional' actors, politicians and media representatives.(3)

Part of the reasons behind the combination of citizen passivity and bureaucratic restrictions on the use of money lies in the history on how Japan became a democracy. Following the Meiji Revolution of the 1860s, when it moved quickly from a feudal state to a modern industrialised and militarised nation state, its political leaders sought to introduce a controlled form of limited democracy. The so-called Meiji Democracy was patterned on the Bismarckian constitution and its imperial model of very restricted institutions of government which seemed outwardly democratic but were usually quite authoritarian in their operation. The rules for popular participation were written by the Home Ministry in 1924 and the goal was to stifle as much public participation in politics as possible in order to prevent the rise of opposition groups and parties. In election campaigns, for example, almost every normal form of politicking was made illegal: no rallies, no spontaneous speech-making, no parades, no canvassing.(4) The assumption was that the public was too unsophisticated to evaluate uncontrolled political messages and thus parties and groups had to be very carefully restricted in campaigns.(5) After 1945, the Americans worked with the Home Affairs Ministry to rewrite the rules to better match the new style of liberal democracy imposed on defeated Japan by the Allies. Strangely, the postwar rules looked very much like the pre-war restrictions.

There are no laws which restrict interest groups and lobbying activities in the national legislature. However, one must point out the cultural restraints which are found in Japanese society and its thousands of informal, but very restrictive social rules, norms and expectations which govern all aspects of behaviour. For their part, business and political leaders are highly aware of public criticism if they meet in public, whether in hotel lobbies or Diet buildings. Consequently, interest group leaders and politicians meet at exclusive teahouses in the Akasaka entertainment district adjacent to the Diet or at very expensive (and private) traditional Japanese restaurants. Their proprietors are highly discreet about their patrons: the tighter their mouths, the more clients they tend to have and the more expensive the meals are. Such meetings are off limits to all outsiders, including the media, and thus we can say that almost all lobbying occurs at the dark edges of Japanese society and not in the light of representative governmental practice. There have been no attempts to regulate these hidden lobbying meetings and the tradition of invisible lobbying. As the Recruit Cosmos scandal of 1989 demonstrated, the transfer of millions of yen from private interests to politicians is not adequately controlled by Japan's political activities regulations.(6) Prime Minister Takeshita fell from office because he lied and tried to cover up the fact that he had been given money and shares by Recruit Cosmos, a relatively new company trying to gain access to the establishment.

There are no laws requiring the registration of lobbyists or the reporting of expenditures spent in lobbying campaigns. Japan, like many other Asian nations, does not provide for the regulation of interest group access to the legislature because such activities are not on the scale or of the sort found in Western nations. The outcome is a dark curtain; much of what happens in interest group politics is effectively hidden from the public's view.

There are no definitions of lobbyists or listings of lobbyists as one might find elsewhere. Almost all lobbyists in Japan are the formal leaders of their corporations or associations: the contract lobbyists--the `hired guns' or lawyers--found elsewhere are almost non-existent. Frequently, an interest group seeking to lobby a particular government office will enlist the support of local politicians or Diet members for an introduction to appropriate officials and to lend prestige to its requests. There are a handful of `fixers', but these are not professional lobbyists as understood in Western nations. One such was the late Yoshio Kodama, a shadow figure who had very much influence in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and was the facilitator in the infamous Lockheed lobbying scandal which toppled Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka and resulted in his conviction.

The Liberal Democratic Party may rule the nation, but the bureaucracy runs it on a day-to-day basis. It has been argued that there are three basic components of business-bureaucratic encounters: self control, state control, and public-private cooperation.(7) In contemporary Japan, all three can be and are used simultaneously. Self control is the private sector receiving authority to regulate itself with government approval; state control has the bureaucracy regulating the private sector; cooperation is a combination of the two. All three of are consistent with a corporatist style of interest group politics.

Lobbying government has been well described as involving three `windows of vulnerability' through which interests may operate.(8) The first is through career officials (section chiefs) in the lower levels of the bureaucracy. Long-term relationships are created which facilitates the flow of information--both political and technical--in the decisionmaking process. The second uses Diet members, especially those in the ruling party. A third is through the expert knowledge and personal contacts of retired officials: these normally retire at between 50 and 55 and usually seek a second career in a connected private sector business, an interest group or a public corporation.

The concept of an ethics in government's code of behaviour is very new in Japan. A Government Ethics bill was introduced into the Diet in 1998. Two years earlier, when a deputy minister of the Ministry of Health and Welfare was involved in a serious scandal of serious proportions, one of the present authors (Akira Nakamura) was consulted by different political parties as apparently the only expert in Japan on the American Government Ethics Act. The Democratic Party, the largest opposition party in 1998, was most enthusiastic. However, the Liberal Democratic Party killed the proposal and, instead, decided to ask each agency to produce a code of conduct for its officials. The ministries established such codes, but this did not prevent the Finance Ministry from having another major scandal in early 1998. Reluctantly, the LDP government is responding to political pressure from its governmental ally, the Social Democrats, and is proposing an administrative ethics act. The details are unknown at the time of writing but will be probably be quite similar to the American model. Provisions will probably include that no Japanese national public officials will receive free lunch or dinner costing more than 5,000 yen (US$40), which would effectively prevent lobbyists entertaining governmental officials to meals. Additionally, senior central government officials with the rank of director would have to disclose their private financial transactions by rules similar to those found in the United States. But most importantly, this proposed law does not cover the Diet or its staff--just to the administrative arm of government.

Almost all important lobbying aimed at influencing takes place behind closed doors. `The invisible political process is much more important for actual decision-making, and it takes place in `private' if nonetheless institutionalised meetings among bureaucrats, Liberal Democratic Party members and the private sector leaders.'(9) These meetings, which serve to reconcile differences between officials and interest group leaders, are very important to the smooth operation of the policy-making process. Additional government-sponsored advisory committees have been established to review the recommendations of the officials' own policy review committees. Often, ministries will use these to give additional political weight to their own proposals or to give support to one bureaucratic faction or another.(10) The advisory committees do give the various interests associated with a particular ministry the chance of direct input into policy-making. There are hundreds of them with thousands of representatives from the country's interest groups.

Interest groups also form petition groups which lobby the ministry affecting their cause. The group delegation, usually headed by a local politician, prominent local citizen or, if possible, a Diet member or his administrative secretary, will visit the ministry for a meeting with the appropriate section chief.

Unlike some instances in the American political system where the bureaucracy becomes the captive of the interest groups, it has been argued that this is not the case in Japan.(11) Its relative independence is a result of the longer time horizon in Japanese politics, as well as the tradition of continuity and incrementalism found in budgetary and other policy decisions. We would argue, indeed, that both interest groups and political parties are largely the captives of the powerful bureaucracies which have administered Japan throughout its long political history.

Japan's lobbying problem: bribery

Two senior bureaucrats in Japan's highly respected Ministry of Finance were arrested in January 1998 for accepting bribes from the banks they were expected to regulate. Shortly afterward, the Minister of Finance, Mitsuzuka, was forced to take responsibility for the disgrace and resign. He was the first Finance Minister to resign in such a situation since the current Prime Minister Hashimoto had to resign in mid-career. The 1998 scandal did not involve cash payments, but tens of thousands of dollars of food and entertainment. Since high-level officials of the Ministry are often hosted in this way by interests they regulate, many had trouble understanding the exact nature of the bribery. The bribery on one official involved $56,000 in entertainment plus a `sweetheart loan' to buy an apartment. Many businessmen were upset by the change of rules.

Most Western nations define their lobbying problems in terms of lobbyist registration, lobbying expenditure reporting and disclosures, declaration of conflict of interests, limitations on expenditures, restrictions on lobbying by former governmental officials, and ethics or codes of conduct. For all practical purposes, these are not major issues in Japan. The real question centres on bribery and how to control bribery in a gift-giving political culture.

Nearly every lobbying scandal in Japan in recent years involves bribery in one form or another. Major Japanese political scandals in recent decades have included Lockheed (Prime Minister Tanaka forced to resign after receiving millions of dollars in bribes to influence an aircraft purchasing decision); Recruit Cosmos (giving company shares to politicians for special access); and Sagawa Express (a transport business giving money to politicians).

Almost every Asian society, and especially those with Confucian political traditions, have serious problems with bribery. Most of these stem from a combination of powerful bureaucracies, low public service pay, a gift-giving culture, and weak traditions of democratic and party channels of political access. Korea, for example, has just completed a cycle of bribery trials in which two former Presidents were sentenced to death or long-term imprisonment and the heads of dozens of major conglomerates were arrested. From China to Vietnam, from the Philippines to Pakistan, countries have been crushed with the weight of repeated bribery cases.

Asian countries have dealt with bribery in different ways. The Peoples Republic of China executed corrupt officials in city squares until the drive for personal wealth eroded the old Communist values during the late 1980s. In other Asian societies, bribery went largely unreported or unprosecuted, at least until a political crisis occurred, as in Indonesia, usually listed as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Japan has dealt with bribery somewhere between these two extremes. In terms of petty bribery, Japanese officials are largely incorruptible. No bribes have to be paid for normal governmental services. However, the practice of gift-giving is rooted in the society at every level and few personal interactions fail to have some type of gift exchange. Requests for favours from those holding higher social positions are always coupled with (sometimes expensive) gifts, even money. While petty bribery is not found in everyday life, huge sums of money frequently change hands at the top of society in efforts to influence governmental contracts or governmental policies.

Japanese laws regarding bribery

Japan has long had laws prohibiting private interests and individuals from bribing public officials. The earliest Japanese state adopted Confucian ideas about the proper role of bureaucrats. Prince Shotoku's 17-article constitution of 604 AD established a new set of governmental ethics, including an article which ordered officials to judge law suits impartially. This law and others which followed apparently had little impact on the Japanese style of corruption however. Tokugawa Japan had extensive bribery in connection with public works, involving preliminary gift-giving and, after contracts were won, the offering of thank you money for the decision. Although anti-bribery laws were enforced on occasions bribery appears to have been ubiquitous.(12) Two factors seem to have contributed strongly to this pattern: low salaries and the custom of gift-giving. Low salaries continue to be a problem in most of the recently emerging Asia economies, but in contemporary Japan, public officials are paid relatively high salaries and are given a high status in society. Nevertheless, the difference between bribery and social expectations has been a fuzzy one in Japan for centuries. For many Tokugawa officials, gifts were considered to be a part of their normal salaries--an informal but important part of their normal rewards of office.

The Meiji government also tried to prohibit bribery but had the same kind of outcomes as previous governments. The New Code of 1871 provided for punishments for those who offered or promised bribes and those who accepted them, ranging from beating to strangulation.(13) In 1882, a Western-style penal code was promulgated and sentences from one month to two years imprisonment were proscribed for those convicted of bribery. In 1885, a new Western-style civil service was created and an important part of that code prohibited bribery: it went as far as prohibiting free passes from railway companies and free meals from other private interests. Still, government officials in the early Meiji period viewed bribes as a part of their normal compensation package and bribery continued to be a serious problem in Japan into the twentieth century.

A series of bribery scandals occurred in the late 1890s and first decade of the present century, leading to a new penal code in 1908, covering Crimes of Official Corruption. Strangely, the penalty was greater for officials who failed to perform the service for which they took a bribe!(14) In 1925, a new campaign restrictions law was passed by the Diet and new bribery rules were included. Heavier penalties for bribery (bigger fines and longer prison terms) were imposed. By the 1930s, however, `Political bribery was widespread. Politicians appear to have accepted vote buying and other violations of election regulations as part of the normal political process. Money exchanged for votes on bills before the House of Representatives. Political bribery flourished during the era of party Cabinets much as it had during earlier years.(15) The rise of military rule in the 1930s brought about an increase in the penalties for bribery. Vote-buying carried three years imprisonment. Tens of thousands of people were arrested during the 1930s for election law violations. After the war, new election laws provided for similar penalties for vote-buying and other election law violations.

The Tanaka scandals of the mid-1970s resulted in a revision of the Political Funds Regulation Law which allowed corporate contributions to political parties based on the size of organization, while the maximum donations by individual citizens was also fixed. The revisions in this law and its companion, the Public Offices Elections Law, reemphasised parties over individual politicians. Among the many loopholes in the law was the lack of reporting requirement for donations below a certain level and the fact that individual politicians could establish as many money-raising organizations as they desired. Another big change resulting from the 1976 revisions was the use of fund-raising parties to raise money.

Major scandals hit the Liberal Democratic Party in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first non-LDP government since 1955 was formed under Prime Minister Hosokawa in 1993 and it forced four major reforms through the Diet in January 1994. A new electoral system tried to change the old multi-member House of Representatives which many had argued was the cause of much of the money politics in Japanese elections and party politics. Tighter controls on political fund-raising were developed and government subsidies to political parties were started. Supporters of the reforms argued that they would reduce the influence of major interests which have been funding the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Others argued that the adoption of the new election districts would contribute to a reduction in vote buying and bribery.

It is far too early to draw any conclusions as to the possible effects of these new laws on the role of interest-group money in Japanese politics in general and in elections specifically. However, it is worth noting that a long succession of laws, rules and restrictions have not been able to reduce the problems of political money significantly. Whatever laws are passed, basic patterns of corruption seem to be rooted in the political culture of a nation. This is especially true of ancient nations and cultures such as China, Korea and Japan. These gift-giving cultures have even greater problems eradicating bribery and improper interest-group influences than those Western societies where the line between gift-giving and bribery is much clearer. It is said that successive reforms may make a dent in deeply rooted illegal practices, but real reform has to be aimed at changing cultural values.(16) Changing cultural values in a firmly rooted society such as Japan is a very ambitious task.

(1) A. George, `Japanese Interest Group Behaviour: An Institutional Approach' in J.A.A. Stockwin, Dynamic and Immobilist Politics in Japan (Macmillan, 1988).

(2) R.J. Hrebenar and A. Nakamura, `Japan: Associational Politics in a Group Oriented Society' in C.S. Thomas (ed.), First World Interest Groups: A Comparative Perspective (1993).

(3) R.J. Hrebenar, The Japanese Party System (Westview Press, 1992).

(4) G. Curtis, Election Campaigning Japanese Style (Columbia University Press, 1971).

(5) G. Curtis, The Japanese Way of Politics (Columbia University Press, 1988).

(6) T. Yayama, `The Recruit Scandal: Learning from the Causes of Corruption', Journal of Japanese Studies, Winter 1990.

(7) C. Johnson, MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925-1975 (Stanford University Press, 1982), pp. 308-12.

(8) B. Woodall and N. Hiwatari, Inside Japan's Leviathan: Decision-Making in the Governmental Bureaucracy (University of California Working Paper, 1988).

(9) Johnson, pp. 91-2.

(10) M. Muramatsu, Sengo Nihon no Kanryosei (Postwar Japanese Bureaucracy). (Toyo Keizai Shinposha, 1981).

(11) B. Richardson and S.C. Flanagan, Politics in Japan (Little Brown, 1984).

(12) R.H. Mitchell, Political Bribery in Japan (University of Hawaii Press, 1966) p. 8.

(13) Ibid at 10.

(14) Ibid at 26.

(15) Ibid at 59.

(16) Ibid at 157.
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Publication:Parliamentary Affairs
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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