Utility executives big political donors in Japan

AP News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2011 3:34 AM
Utility executives big political donors in Japan

Japanese utility company executives were by far the biggest individual donors to Japan's former ruling party during its last year in power, accounting for a whopping 72 percent of personal contributions, a news report said.

While the donations amounted to only a small fraction of the Liberal Democratic Party's operations fund, the revelation is likely to add to questions surrounding connections between power companies and politicians amid the nuclear disaster in northeastern Japan set off by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Executives from nine utility companies contributed 47 million yen ($595,000) to the Liberal Democratic Party in 2009, Kyodo News agency reported. That's nearly three quarters of the nearly 65 million yen ($823,000) received in 2009 in total individual donations to the party.

Among the donors were executives with Tokyo Electric Power, which operates the radiation-spewing reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The crisis is the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Kyodo said late Friday it obtained the information by analyzing the political funding reports released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Personal political donations are relatively rare in Japan, accounting for only about 5 percent of the LDP funding in 2009. The vast majority of the former ruling party's 2.8 billion yen ($36 million) main operations fund comes from corporate donations.

The utility executives' personal donations averaged out to about 300,000 yen ($3,800) each, well within the legal limit for individual contributions.

The individual contributions are still likely to draw scrutiny, however, especially since the power industry had stopped making corporate donations to the ruling party in 1974, according to Kyodo.

That industry decision was in response to growing criticism about the cozy relations between lawmakers and the power industry, Kyodo said.

The Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, was voted out of power in 2009, relinquishing its grip on power that it had held in postwar Japan almost continuously.

Promoting nuclear power and assuring its safety despite recurring scandals and accidents were the pillars of its policies in orchestrating recovery and growth after World War II.

Kyodo confirmed no contribution from the executives in 2009 to the political fund management body of Japan's new ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan.