April 19, 2012 · Posted in: General
CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS are asking the Commission on Elections to establish firmer and clearer rules and procedures on what candidates and political parties can do with excess campaign contributions.
The lawyers’ group Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) and several civil society groups are submitting to the Comelec on Friday a list of recommended reforms that should be implemented in time for the May 2013 mid-term elections.
Chief among these – stricter rules on what may be done with excess campaign contributions.
The issue of excess contributions surfaced following the last two elections, when several candidates admitted that they earned millions of pesos from campaign contributions that had not been spent.
After the May 10 2010 Presidential elections, President Benigno S. Aquino III admitted to the Comelec that he had almost P37 million in unspent campaign contributions. Prior to that, former presidential son Mikey Arroyo publicly admitted that he had used excess campaign cotnributions in his run for a congressional seat in Pampanga to buy a house and lot in California.
The country’s election laws are silent on what to do with excess campaign contributions. In the past, many politicians just quietly pocket their excess campaign contributions, said Lente president Luie Tito Guia. Because of this gap in the law, some politicians have reportedly resorted to using elections as a way to raise money.
“Ang dami kasi, kokolekta ng five million pesos, ang gagastusin lang one million. Babayad lang ako ng tax for income, okay na yun, hindi ko naman pinaghirapan yun eh,” Guia said. “Ang daming gumagawa nun.”
(A lot of them would collect, say, five million and then spend only one million. They may just declare the excess as income, since they didn’t work for it anyway. A lot do that.)
Guia said Comelec has to issue clearer rules on the nature of excess campaign contributions, especially since these were tax-free donations made by supporters of a candidate specifically for the campaign. Guia said there was something wrong with the idea of candidates pocketing excess contributions from their supporters when the money was intended for the campaign. “Ibig sabihin ba pwede nang ibulsa ang sobra basta magbayad lang ng buwis?” (Does this mean that they can pocket the excess contributions after merely paying a tax?)
Interestingly, candidates with excess campaign contributions don’t seem to be declaring these extra funds in their income tax returns, even though some of them clearly treat the excess funds as their “income,” as in the case of Mr. Mikey Arroyo. For his part, President Aquino did not reflect the P 37 million excess campaign funds in the last Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALN) that he filed in 2011. If he had declared it as income, he would have had to pay several millions of pesos in income tax.
Some have proposed that the excess funds be put into a pool managed by the Comelec; others have proposed that the funds go to the account of the political party, for use in the next elections.
Whatever the case, Guia said that the lack of clarity on the matter means that some politicians will continue to look at campaign donations as their personal kitty.
In a roundtable discussion on the draft rules and regulations governing campaign finance for the 2013 elections, the civil society and lawyers groups drew up a list of other concerns for the Coemelc to tackle before the country enters the election season.
- Guidelines and rules on how to monitor and regulate political advertising in the internet.
- Require political candidates to submit their advertising and communications plan, including the target platforms, media agencies, advertising agencies, as well as identifying a central coordinator.
- Firmer rules on whether to allow tandem or combo advertisements, where a candidate who may have consumed most of his alloted airtime rides on the airtime of allies or coalition members.
- Guidelines on how to count the number of advertising minutes consumed, as against the allowed number of minutes for the candidate. This came up after some media organizations noted how both media networks and politicians try to maneuver around airtime limits by spreading their ads among regional stations and provincial affiliates.
- Require media organizations to have a point person to deal with both the Comelec and candidates buying airtime or ad space. Because of lack of uniformity, it is not clear if the Comelec should deal with the sales or marketing people in the media agencies.
Guia said the proposals will be submitted to the Comelec for the body’s consideration and early action. Guia said the proposals are the result of a series of consultative meetings with groups such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Libertas, the UP College of Law, the Association of Schools of Public Administration in the Philippines, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.