Show me the money: Who paid for what in the Lower House election

January 5th, 2015 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Posters for LDP candidate still standing (and lying) in a Chiba field a month after the election

Posters for LDP candidate still standing (and lying) in a Chiba field a month after the election

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Lower House in November and called a general election, some people complained about the cost. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for an election that was more or less being carried out on a whim?

The complaint got lost in the post-election buzz, when other complaints became louder, but at least one person still wonders about all that money. In a new column in the Asahi Shimbun called “Re: Okotae Shimasu” (Re: Answering Questions), a reader mentions that she heard that the election cost ¥63 billion. What, she asks, was that money spent on?

It’s a good question, but one that’s difficult to answer since the government is still adding up all the receipts and won’t actually reveal the results until next fall, by which time the election will be a distant memory. However, the Asahi was able to give the reader some idea based on the last general election held in 2012, which cost ¥58.8 billion.

In addition, when a “snap election” is held, meaning a poll that doesn’t follow the normal election cycle, the money comes from an “emergency fund” (yobihi) that is kept in reserve for when something unexpected happens.

Ninety percent of the 2012 election budget, or ¥54.2 billion, went to prefectural governments. Another ¥2.1 billion was earmarked for newspaper advertising, and ¥1.9 billion for notification postcards. Smaller amounts went to seiken hoso (political broadcasts; ¥100 million), meaning those boring campaign statements aired on NHK that nobody watched.

Why do the prefectures receive so much? Local governments are entrusted with this money to carry out the elections for all the constituent candidates (the Ministry of Internal Affairs pays the proportional election costs). So, for example, Tokyo Prefecture used its share of the funds, which is doled out in proportion to the number of eligible voters, to pay for posters and print publicity (¥4.2 billion), miscellaneous notification materials (¥53 million), and the administration of polling stations (¥2.2 billion), which is carried out by individual city and ward offices.

According to the Huffington Post, which perused the same 2012 documents, the previous Lower House election also spent ¥39 million on overseas voters, which didn’t happen this time because there was not enough time for Japanese living abroad to apply for absentee ballots, which require at least two months to process. Another expense was ¥78 million for police to use for identifying and cracking down on election irregularities. For the 2014 poll the police got ¥82 billion since this time a limited amount of Internet campaigning was allowed, so the cops supposedly had more work to do.

But as one hard-working blogger pointed out, it’s also important to distinguish public funds for the election from money that is spent by parties and candidates. As we mentioned several years ago, a candidate must put up a deposit of ¥3 million, which is forfeited if the candidate does not secure at least 10 percent of the vote. This deposit goes toward the cost of supplying and printing up to 35,000 postcards (about ¥262,000), supplying and printing up to 70,000 campaign flyers (¥462,000), and printing posters for the official election boards that are set up near all polling stations (¥1.1 million for a maximum of 1,000 posters).

Funds from the deposit also pay for campaign stop banners, one loudspeaker vehicle, and election office expenses. The candidate can also use it to place up to five two-column-size newspaper advertisements, which is worth about ¥1 million total. Anything else that the candidate needs he will have to pay for himself out of his own or his party’s funds, and is required to submit documentation for the money he spends within 15 days after the election takes place.

One of the items that the candidate or his party has to pay for himself is extra posters that are put up by supporters, and we’ve noticed that in our area posters for candidates and parties are still standing — or lying on the ground — almost a month after the election, many along public roads and in vacant lots. Obviously, there is no subsidy for removing them.

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