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Japan’s Public Office Election Act restricts candidates’ campaigns and provides candidates with certain publicly funded promotion methods.  Advertisements are restricted. A foreigner can promote candidates and parties online and can also take actions to defeat candidates, the same as a citizen. 

Donations to candidates and parties are regulated, and there are caps. Election campaign spending is also capped.  Political contributions from foreign persons and entities, including paying for advertisements or other types of communication, are prohibited.   

I. Overview of Japanese Campaign Finance Regulation

Japan regulates election campaigns and campaign finance by separate laws.  These regulations are very different from those of the United States. The Public Office Election Act restricts candidates’ campaigns and provides candidates with certain publicly funded promotion methods. Every candidate for public office is given a certain amount of free time for advertising on TV or radio, or free space for newspaper advertisements.[1]  It is based on the view that, though election campaigns must be conducted as freely as possible because they provide information on which constituents can base their decisions, without restrictions, elections may be unfairly influenced by money and power.[2] 

The campaign periods for parliament seats are very short: at least twelve days for election to the House of Representatives,[3] and at least seventeen days for election to the House of Councillors.[4]  In recent elections, the campaign periods have been the minimum periods or a couple of days longer.[5]    

Donations to political parties, politicians, and candidates are restricted.  Under the Political Funds Control Act, corporations, industry organizations, and unions are only allowed to donate to political parties and their fund-managing organizations, not to specific politicians or candidates.[6]  The upper limit of the total donation by these entities to political parties and political fund organizations ranges from 7.5 million yen to 30 million yen (US$68,000 to US$272,700) per year, depending on the entity’s size.[7]  Individuals can donate goods or services, other than money, to a candidate up to 1.5 million yen (US$13,500) per year.[8] Individuals can donate money to political parties and their fund-managing organizations up to 20 million yen (US$180,000) per year.[9] 

Under the Political Party Subsidies Act, political parties receive government subsidies, which are distributed according to the numbers of seats each party has in the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors, as well as the proportion of votes they earned in past elections.[10]  Parties may distribute money to their candidates at elections.  Candidates use such distributions from their party and money that they raised by themselves, including donations from individuals.[11]  There are caps for election campaign costs that are calculated by methods specified by the Public Office Election Act and its enforcement order, depending on the election methods and number of constituents.[12]  For example, 52 million yen (US$472,000) is the cap for a candidate for a seat in the House of Councillors elected by proportional representation.[13]

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II. Donations from Foreign Persons or Entities

Political contributions from foreign persons and entities are prohibited. The Political Funds Control Act states that no one can receive contributions for political activities from (1) foreign persons, (2) foreign entities, or (3) any other organizations of which the majority of the members are foreign persons or entities, except for domestic companies that have been listed on a Japanese stock exchange consecutively for five years or more.[14]  Receipt of a political contribution in violation of this provision is punishable by imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine of not more than 500,000 yen (US$4,500).[15] 

When a foreign corporation establishes a subsidiary in Japan in accordance with Japanese law, and the subsidiary establishes another company in Japan in accordance with Japanese law, that sub-subsidiary can make donations because the majority of its members are domestic persons or entities.[16]

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III. Financing Campaign Advertisements

As stated in the previous section, no one can receive political contributions from a foreigner or foreign entities.  Therefore, foreign persons or entities cannot finance advertisements or other types of communications about elections during campaigns.

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IV. Foreign Person’s Communication through Media and Internet

Election activities through television, radio, newspapers, magazines, postal mail, and email are regulated, and only candidates and parties can conduct them under specific conditions.[17]  However, anyone, except for minors and persons who cannot vote because of a past violation of the Public Office Election Act or another law,[18] can promote candidates or parties by a “method using website.”[19]  Therefore, a foreigner can express support for a party or a candidate through the internet, including via homepages, blogs, social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook), video sharing services such as YouTube, and video live streaming, but not by email.[20]  A person must post an email address or other contact information on the website.[21]  There does not appear to be a regulation governing entities’ online election activities. If an entity offers to pay an employee to carry out election activities via the internet, however, the offer may constitute an attempted bribe.[22]

Activities aimed at defeating a candidate are less regulated. Under the Public Office Election Act, such activities are not regarded as “election activities.” Election activities are understood as actions intended to help a candidate gain office.[23]  Authorities and experts warn the public that the line between election activities and attempts to defeat a candidate are sometimes unclear.  For example, when there are only two candidates for a seat, activities aimed at defeating one candidate directly benefit the other one.[24]  Although not many persons, groups, or entities have committed such activities, small groups have started to do so recently by using the internet.[25]  The Public Office Election Act states that persons attempting to defeat a candidate through the internet must show their email addresses or other contact information on their websites.  Those activists can send emails to constituents, but they also must specify their email addresses and names in the emails.[26]   

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V. Foreign Persons’ Participation in Campaigns as Employees or Consultants

It does not appear that foreign persons’ participation in campaigns as employees or consultants is regulated.  However, compensation for their services may constitute bribery under the Public Office Election Act[27] unless their services are simple and no discretion is given to them.[28]

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VI. Report of Foreign Contacts

It does not appear that campaign personnel are obligated to report contacts with foreign persons regarding donations of money, information, or services.

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VII. Activities of Persons Employed by Foreign Entities

As stated in Part IV, a foreign person’s or entity’s election activities are not prohibited.  However, the offer of payment to an employee for campaign activities may constitute attempted election bribery. In addition, as stated in Parts II and III, no one can receive contributions for political activities from a foreigner or a foreign entity.  Therefore, it is illegal for a domestic person to accept funding from foreign entities, including nongovernmental organizations, for political campaigning.

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Sayuri Umeda
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
August 2019


[1] 公職選挙法 [Public Office Election Act], Law No. 100 of 1950, amended by Law No. 75 of 2018, arts. 149–151.

[2] Senkyo seido kenkyukai, 実務と研修のためのわかりやすい公職選挙法 (Easy-to-Understand Public Office Election Act for Practices and Trainings), at 176 (15th ed. 2014).

[3] Public Office Election Act, art. 31, para. 4 & art. 129.  The campaign period is shortened for candidates who do not report their candidacy on the first day of the reporting period.

[4] Id. art. 32, para. 3 & art. 129.

[5] See 都内選挙日程 [Election Schedules in Tokyo], Secretariat to Election Administration Commission, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, http://www.senkyo.metro.tokyo.jp/election/schedule/, archived at https://perma.cc/8YGS-X56G.

[6] 政治資金規正法 [Political Funds Control Act], Law No. 194 of 1948, amended by Law No.135 of 2007, art. 21, para. 1.

[7] Id. art. 21-3.

[8] Id. art. 21-2, para. 1 & art. 21-3, para. 3.

[9] Id. art. 21-3, para. 1.

[10] 政党助成法 [Political Party Subsidies Act], Law No. 5 of 1994, amended by Act No. 113 of 2006, art. 8.

[11] 選挙資金の確保は? 1千万円超必要新人、金策に四苦八苦 前職陣営は「カネでなくボランティア動員力」 [How to Secure Election Campaign Fund? More Than 10 Million Yen Required  . . .  New Candidate, Hard to Collect Money; Incumbents Say “Number of Volunteers Is More Important Than Money”], Sankei Shimbun (Nov. 27, 2014), https:// www.sankei.com/west/news/141127/wst1411270061-n1.html, archived at https://perma.cc/E7Y2-2M8H.

[12] Public Office Election Act, art. 194.

[13] 公職選挙法施行令 [Public Office Election Act Enforcement Order], Cabinet Order No. 89 of 1950, amended by Cabinet Order No. 344 of 2018, art. 127.

[14] Political Funds Control Act, art. 22-5, para. 1.

[15] Id. art. 26-2, item 3.

[16] Seiji shikin seido kenkyukai, 政治資金規正法要覧 [Summary of Political Funds Control Act], at 103 (5th ed. 2015).

[17] Public Office Election Act, Ch. 13.

[18] Id. arts 137-2 & 137-3.

[19] Id. art. 142-3, para. 1.

[20] インターネット等を利用する方法による選挙運動の解禁等 [Lifting Ban from Election Campaign by Using Internet, etc.], Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, http://www.soumu.go.jp/senkyo/senkyo_s/ naruhodo/ naruhodo10_2.html (last visited June 17, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/BL7B-ZQUF.

[21] Public Office Election Act,art. 142-3, para. 3.

[22] Id. art. 221, para. 1, item 1.  See also Cabinet Answer No. 54 at House of Councillors, 180th Diet Session (Mar. 16, 2012), http://www.sangiin.go.jp/japanese/joho1/kousei/syuisyo/180/touh/t180054.htm (in Japanese), archived at https://perma.cc/3WFQ-BVF2.

[23] インターネット選挙運動等に関する各党協議会 [Conference of Parties on Internet Election Campaign], 改正公職選挙法(インターネット選挙運動解禁)ガイドライン [Amended Public Office Election Act (Lifting Ban of Internet Election Campaign) Guidelines] (hereinafter “Guidelines”), at 29-30 (Apr. 26 2013), http://www.soumu.go.jp/ main_content/000222706.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/MZ5Q-C8PC.

[24] Id.

[25] 学生団体SEALDsの合言葉「落選させよう」は公選法に違反しないのか? [Doesn’t Students Group SEALDs’ Motto “Make Them Unseated” Violate Election Law?], Page (Oct. 4, 2015), https://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/ hl?a=20151004-00000002-wordleaf-soci, archived at https://perma.cc/WKR2-CJUM; Ema Shiroishi, 公職選挙法に注意!~「落選運動を支援する会」共同代表の上脇博之教授による「落選運動のススメ」 [Be Aware of Public Office Election Act! – “Promotion of Activities for Making Some Candidates Unseated” by Professor Hiroyuki Kamiwaki , Co-Representative of “Group to support activities for making candidates unseated ”], Independent Web Journal (June 13, 2016), https://iwj.co.jp/wj/open/archives/308570, archived at https://perma.cc/TB39-K9TW.

[26] Public Office Election Act, art. 142-5.

[27] Id. art. 221, para. 1, item 1. 

[28] Guidelines, supra note 23, at 48-49.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020