Japan dental body suspected of election law violation

The Japan Dental Federation is suspected of violating the Public Offices Election Law following the discovery of an internal document showing it asked prefectural federations under its umbrella to start telephone call campaigns for a House of Councillors election candidate before the campaign period officially started.

The federation was found to have asked prefectural federations to call voters and ask them to support Midori Ishii, an upper house member of the Liberal Democratic Party, before the campaign officially began in July 2013. The Japan Dental Federation promised to shoulder part of the costs incurred by the prefectural federations.

Its actions are suspected to violate the election law, which prohibits election-related activities before the official start of campaign periods. The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is consequently probing the affair.

According to sources, the Japan Dental Federation had a document dated May 20, 2013 titled, "Request for implementing telephone call campaign before the election campaign period starts." The document was under the name of the federation's then president, Mikimasa Takagi.

Copies of the document were distributed to the prefectural federations, and it clearly stated that it would "strengthen supporting schemes for lawmaker Ishii."

Takagi, 70, has been arrested on suspicion of making illicit political fund donations.

The document contained examples of wording to be used in the telephone calls, such as "Lawmaker Midori Ishii has been undertaking activities for dental services. We desperately seek your co-operation," and "In the upper house election, we would like you to write down the name of an individual candidate."

Additionally, the document said ¥300,000 (S$3,500) to ¥600,000 would be provided to the prefectural federations, depending on their membership numbers, to fund the installation of temporary phone lines and the employment of part-time workers. It said the money would be provided by early June 2013.

Sources said the Japan Dental Federation provided a total of about ¥40 million in the form of donations to the prefectural federations starting in mid-May 2013.

Starting around January 2013, the Japan Dental Federation began asking prefectural federations to submit lists of potential supporters. Each prefectural federation was asked to supply the names and telephone numbers of five people for each of their members. The Japan Dental Federation collected the information of about 550,000 people in total.

The lists were used for the telephone call campaign. One of the prefectural federations had part-time workers make calls en masse before the election campaign period was officially announced.

During the upper house election campaign, Yoshinobu Murata, 70, was responsible for the accounting of Ishii's office. He has also been arrested on suspicion of making illicit political fund donations.

Murata was the chief accounting official of the Japan Dental Federation and is assumed to have engaged in the telephone call campaign.

The election law stipulates that a lawmaker's election victory may be nullified under a guilt-by-association rule if a person in his or her campaign office who is responsible for accounting is fined or receives heavier criminal punishment for vote-buying or conducting election campaign activities before the official beginning of a campaign.

An official of the Japan Dental Federation told The Yomiuri Shimbun, "The telephone calls and compiling of lists were for normal support [of Ishii], and thus did not constitute an election campaign."