Comelec to become more strict on campaign spending

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.28
In an interview, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr. said the commission will strictly monitor campaign contributions and expenses of candidates in the May 2013 polls. He also said that the Comelec might tap the help of election watchdogs to help monitor the campaign expenses and verify documents that will be submitted by the winning and losing candidates after the election pertaining to their actual expenses.

Under election rules, all candidates are required to file their statement of contributions and expenses (SOCE) 30 days after the polls. Failure to do so will prevent a winning candidate from taking office and make him or her liable for administrative charges and fines of up to Php 30,000. Senatorial, congressional and other local candidates registered under a political party are authorized to spend only Php 3 for every voter, while independent candidates without any support from any political party are only authorized to spend Php 5 for every registered voter. Political parties and party-list groups may spend only Php 5 for every voter in their constituency.

Over the decades, the Comelec has been limited to just receiving reports from candidates with regard campaign contributions and expenses, and reviewed by the Comelec's Law Department that is severely understaffed to undertake the process in a timely manner. In a forum last week organized by the Ateneo School of Government, Comelec commissioner Christian Robert Lim said that under-reporting of campaign expenses is prevalent among candidates and easily got past the Comelec. For the 2010 elections for example, the Bureau of Internal Revenue collected only PhP 200 million from tax on campaign contributions. Going by this figure, it means that all candidates in the 2010 national elections only got Php 2 Billion in total campaign contributions, a figure that is hard to believe.

In July this year, the Comelec created a Campaign Finance Unit, headed by Commissioner Lim, that will go beyond receiving and keeping reports filed by candidates, political parties, contributors and election contractors and advertising contracts of media entities. The unit is also supposed to audit and publish these reports and monitor fund raising and spending activities. The Comelec has deputized 14 government agencies to assist the Campaign Finance Unit to carry out its tasks. However, Commissioner Lim considers the Campaign Finance Unit a start-up, saying that new and existing civil society initiatives are needed to put campaign finance reform in place.

In the same forum, participants identified other problems tied to election spending and fund raising besides overspending and under-reporting; Premature campaigning; Dynastic and patronage politics; Vote buying and selling; Anonymous contributors; No limit on campaign contributions; Unrealistic spending limits; No limits on spending for counsel and printing sample ballots; Lack of regulations on online campaigning; Increased State spending as elections near, especially on public works; Failure to file statements of campaign expenditures; Need for disclosure of campaign expenses; No post-audit of declarations; Need to include violations of the Election Code in the Anti-Money Laundering Act, similar to graft and corruption; Quid pro quo resulting from campaign contributions, in the form of policy favorable to donors; Failure to prosecute violators; Weak political party system; Personality-based politics.

(Sources: Vera Files; Manila Standard Today; forum notes)