Challenges in Campaign Finance Monitoring & Enforcement in the 2013 Elections
NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.3, No.1
by Eric Jude O. Alvia, Secretary General,
Monitoring election contributions and
expenditure has been given emphasis by the Comelec in the 2013
Philippine mid-term elections to improve opportunities and chance
for candidates with limited resources for a successful campaign.
However, enforcement of and compliance to these regulations were
muted due to a combination of resource constraints of Comelec,
unclear implementing rules, and existing election rules &
regulations which contradict the spirit of campaign finance laws.
On one hand, expenses are controlled, with each candidate and
political party having to abide by spending caps. On the other hand,
contributions are monitored to ensure that public funds are not
utilized especially by incumbents to undue advantage. Another
intended goal is to stem corruption by ensuring that illicit sources
of funds are not used for campaign purposes.
The main tool employed by Comelec requires all candidates and
political parties to submit financial reports not more than 30 days
after the elections as required by the election code. This is easier
imposed than complied with.
Definition of candidates: the crux of the problem
The primary weakness of enforcement and compliance stems
from the definition of candidates being considered as such
only at the start of the election campaign period and not
upon filing as ruled by the Supreme Court in the Comelec vs.
This interpretation runs counter to Comelec’s earlier view
that officials who file their candidacy for re-election or
another post has already declared his intention to run.
Since the definition of a candidate would only take effect
once the campaign period sets
in, then the official cannot be considered a candidate yet.
This also undermines the rule by providing feedback to
prospective contributors to donate for the candidates'
campaign. The consideration period also complicates
contribution and expenditure reporting. Given this
definition, they may not declare contributions prior to the
election period and these are not considered an election
offense. However, incumbents who do so may be charged with
Premature campaigning & its effects
This unclear definition has resulted in early campaigning
leading to the practice of front loading expenses prior to
the start of the campaign period (Jan. 13). These premature
election activities (campaigning, contribution and spending)
effectively negate the gains to be made for an inclusive and
competitive environment during the election campaigning.
Also, an unintended effect of putting an early cap resulted
to campaigns becoming more expensive for a prospective
candidate. Observers also have attributed a surge in vote
buying in past elections as a deflected effect of imposing
spending restrictions early on. The weeks preceding election
day are viewed by most candidates as “catch-up days” who are
lagging behind formal and informal surveys.
Unclear definition favors incumbents
and/or the resource-laden
The loophole in the definition of a candidate also raised
concerns and even some accusations that the Priority
Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and conditional cash
transfer (CCT) program were used to favor local incumbents
backed by the administration party.
To quell these concerns and in observance of the election
ban, government agencies such as the DSWD suspended the
distribution of cash under the program and resumed only
after the campaign period. On the other hand, to prevent the
abuse of the PDAF, prohibitions to procurement; construction
and appointments activities prior to and during the campaign
period was strictly observed.
In another instance, given that a sizeable amount of
campaign funds are spent on advertising placements with
broadcast media, Comelec’s initial tack to enforce
expenditure cap was to impose the 20-minute limit on
political ads of candidates. However, the high courts ruling
ordered Comelec to revert to the airtime limits (120
minutes/180 minutes per station, for candidates or
registered political parties for a National Elective
Position and 60 minutes/ 90 minutes airtime limit, per
station for a Local Elective Position,) imposed on
candidates during the 2010 elections. This resulted in a
surge in broadcast advertising spending approaching election
Inconsistent enforcement diminishes
Another challenge is Comelec’s limits to enforce penalties
on campaign finance violators. Comelec has a memorandum of
agreement with the Department of Interior and Local
Government (DILG), which prohibits local officials from
assuming office without submitting their expense reports.
However, it has no power to compel the Senate or the House
to bar non-compliant officials from taking their posts.
Non-enforcement of campaign finance rules in 2010 also
undermined the public’s confidence of Comelec’s resolve with
the absence of a 2010 SOCE compliance report. Candidates who
have not filed statement of contributions and expenditures
(SOCEs) in two elections will be disqualified from running
for public office in succeeding elections.
In past elections, Comelec had been lax and lenient in
implementing campaign finance regulations. Comelec's sudden
strictness this year is still shrouded with doubt and
questions from political parties and candidates on the
resolve of the poll body to enforce these regulations. Some
have even scoffed at its capability to mete out penalties
whether to those remiss in submitting the proper SOCE's or
violations to spending caps.
A further review of existing campaign finance law and its
implementing regulations is needed to clarify the definition
and reconcile the disparate and inconsistent rules and
regulations. In addition, more innovative legislation has to
be crafted related to campaign contribution regulations,
state-support on election finance and strengthening the
political party system.
To increase its effectiveness to monitor and improve
enforcement, resources have to be allocated to improve the
capability of the Comelec’s Campaign Finance Unit and a
muliti-sectoral and multi-agency task force has to be set up
to support the Unit in its tasks.
As previously suggested by NAMFREL, periodic electronic
report submissions and outsourcing the task of auditing the
SOCE to private auditors could also ensure the quality and
accuracy of reports filed before the Comelec.