At least 334 out of 2,570 prefectural assembly members in Japan have had dealings with the Unification Church or its affiliates, with over 80 percent of them belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a Kyodo News survey showed Sunday.
The November survey shows that the influence of the religious group -- under increased scrutiny for questionable practices such as soliciting financially ruinous donations from members and for its links with the LDP -- is also widespread among regional politicians.
Candidates' links with the contentious group are likely to be a major focus at unified local assembly elections slated for next spring.
In the survey, 13 of 47 incumbent and incoming prefectural governors and nine out of 20 major city mayors also acknowledged interactions with the Unification Church or its affiliated groups.
The poll, conducted between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30, excluded city assembly members.
Of the 334 prefectural assembly members who admitted to past contacts with the church, 279 belonged to the LDP, 11 to Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the LDP, and seven each to the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Japan Innovation Party.
One belonged to the Democratic Party for the People, another opposition party, while 27 were independent.
The scrutiny of the Unification Church intensified following the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July. His attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, has said he held a grudge against the church because his mother made considerable donations to it, leaving his family in financial ruin.
The response rate of the survey was around 94 percent, with 157 assembly members not providing answers.
The no-response rate among prefectural assembly members was the highest in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where Abe's constituency was located, with 11 out of 47 members not responding.
Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai declined to join the survey, saying he had answered similar questions in a press conference.
According to the survey, 33 prefectural assembly members, of whom 31 belong to the LDP, said they were helped by the group in elections, such as by church members making calls to voters or by invited to make speeches at rallies organized by the church.
Two LDP members of the Okinawa prefectural assembly said they received endorsements from the group in the assembly elections in 2020.
Thirty-three LDP members and two independent members said they had assumed posts at church-affiliated organizations.
When asked whether the respondents have continued their relationships with the church, three out of 279 LDP members said they have, while 13 did not provide answers to the question.
In October, the LDP sent notices to its prefectural chapters requesting that they sever ties with the church.
In a multiple-choice question regarding participation in events and meetings organized by church-affiliated groups, 240 said they have taken part, 91 have made speeches, four have sent video messages, 37 have sent congratulatory messages and five have sent their secretaries to participate on behalf.
Most of those who made such answers were LDP members, the poll showed.
In the survey, 61 said they have paid fees to attend the events or meetings, 70 percent of whom were LDP members.
Governors of 13 prefectures -- Akita, Tochigi, Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, Yamanashi, Gifu, Aichi, Nara, Hiroshima, Tokushima and Kagoshima -- said they have had ties with the church.
Mayors of nine major cities -- Chiba, Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture, Niigata, Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, Nagoya, Osaka, Okayama, Kitakyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture and Kumamoto -- admitted to having had links.
The Unification Church, established by a staunch anti-communist in South Korea in 1954, is known for its "spiritual sales," in which people are pressured into buying items for exorbitant prices through threats, such as invoking negative "ancestral karma."
Given the allegations of inflicting damage to public welfare, the Japanese government began investigating the Unification Church, which may result in requesting a court to consider depriving the group of its status as a religious corporation with tax benefits.