Comelec wants cap on campaign contributions

VERA Files
Tinig Ng Botante

By Mikha Flores, VERA Files

This is something lawmakers should consider before the 2016 elections.

If campaign finance laws limit the expenditure of candidates in local and national elections, then contributions should also be regulated.

Elections Commissioner Christian Robert Lim said Congress should pass a law that will limit political campaign contributions so that the amount a candidate receives for his or her political campaign will not exceed the limit for campaign spending.

There being no restrictions on campaign contributions, he said, “if my limit for expenditure is just P1 million, I can still raise P100 million legally.”

In 2010, President Benigno Aquino reported he received P100 million from his businessman cousin Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco Jr. for his presidential campaign. The donation was almost a quarter of the total amount of P440 million he received as campaign contributions from supporters. Aquino spent P403 million for his campaign.

According to Lim, campaign contributions have also been used as an excuse by politicians to “launder” ill-gotten wealth. He said if the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) of officials increase after an election period, they make it appear it was due to contributions received during the campaign period.

O eleksyon e, madami akong natanggap. Malalabas ko na iyong pera ngayon…iyon ang mga binabantayan namin (It’s election season and I received a lot. So I can now declare all my money. That’s what we are guarding right now),” Lim said during a discussion with Ateneo law students.

The absence of a cap on political campaign contributions has allowed candidates to earn millions during elections since there are no laws requiring them to return unspent money to their supporters.

But Lim said the excess funds should be declared as income that is taxable by the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

In the last elections, a few senatorial candidates received more than they spent during the campaign based on their statements of election contributions and expenses.

Nancy Binay earned P8.17 million from her senatorial campaign. She received P136.87 million in campaign contributions but only spent P128.7 million. Other candidates who earned from contributions include Ramon Montaño (P5.25 million), Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV (P1.165 million), Francis Escudero (P746, 690.90), Juan Ponce Enrile Jr. (396, 838.09) and Grace Poe-Llamanzares (156, 346.41).

While Lim suggests a cap on contributions, he also supports adjusting current spending limits to take into account the effects of inflation and other economic factors.

RA 7166, which sets the spending limit, was passed by Congress in 1995. “This is something Congress never really acted upon for almost 20 years,” Lim said.

Presidential candidates are allowed to spend P10 for every registered voter while senatorial, congressional and local candidates belonging to political parties are allowed only P3 for every voter while independents can spend P5 per voter. Political parties and party-list groups are authorized to spend P5 for every voter.

Adjusting the spending limits to more realistic levels, Lim said, will prevent candidates from under-reporting their expenses and instead make them “more truthful” to their declarations.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true”.)