Further on in our discussion about how much taxpayer money goes toward salaries for public servants, elected and otherwise, one of the reasons given by Diet lawmakers for opposing a cut in their own salaries is that they are limited in terms of publicly funded staff. The government pays for up to three secretaries. A politician has to cover the salaries of any staff above that number.
Lawmakers have a variety of reasons for why they might need more than three secretaries. Often the head secretary is in charge of policy, which is why the government will compensate the politician by as much as ¥13 million a year for the secretary’s services, especially if the politician isn’t thoroughly versed in particular areas of policy. Some policy secretaries are professionals in this regard, jumping from one lawmaker to another — usually within the same party — depending on the extent of the lawmaker’s knowledge and experience. After that, secretaries mostly perform office work and deal directly with constituents. But according to an article in the online magazine Post Seven, many also act as valets and bagmen, and some are apprentice politicians. Democratic Party of Japan kingpin Ichiro Ozawa has a dozen or so secretaries, several of whom have gotten into trouble for accepting illegal contributions, and at least one who has become a Diet member in his own right.
Secretary salaries start at ¥6.5 million a year and increase depending on experience and other factors. They receive a ¥30,000 commuting allowance and a ¥27,000 housing allowance per month. The money goes directly into the politician’s operating account, which means the politician pays his secretaries both their salaries and expenses. That’s why the system is easy to abuse. Some years ago family members were banned from taking secretary positions because most tend to be staff in name only. The money paid for their services just went directly into the lawmaker’s pocket, but it was difficult to prove so they just make it illegal to hire relatives. However, it’s easy to do the same sort of thing with a secretary who isn’t a relative. The lawmaker has to request the payments, after which the secretary may have to take some sort of qualifying exam, though Post Seven says there are lots of loopholes. Some politicians don’t take money from the government for staff because they don’t want to be suspected of abusing the system. The situation is made even cloudier by the fact that neither house of the Diet reveals publicly how much they spend on lawmakers’ staff.