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. Penera case.
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 bribery.
Premature campaigning & its
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 day.
Inconsistent enforcement diminishes impact
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.