Can candidates spend like crazy on campaigns?

Fritzie Rodriguez
Can candidates spend like crazy on campaigns?
Will candidates stick to the rules on campaign spending? And more importantly, will the Comelec implement its rules?

MANILA, Philippines – The quick answer is no, however, Filipinos are not exactly known for sticking to the rules.

Campaign overspending is prohibited under the Omnibus Election Code. Such election offense merits imprisonment of one to 6 years, disqualification from holding public office, and removal of one’s right to vote.

Having laws in place, however, does not always stop candidates from doing what they want.

As of January 2016, there were 1,629 overspending cases nationwide, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), dating back to the 2010 and 2013 elections.

Such cases move at a very slow pace. Hence, many candidates are not afraid of overspending, thinking nobody gets punished anyway.

But in May 2014, the Comelec en banc disqualified former Laguna governor Emilio Ramon “ER” Ejercito for campaign overspending. And in February 2015, the SC upheld Ejercito’s disqualification.

In the 2016 elections, will local and national candidates once again dare to overspend?  

Stricter

In October 2015, the Comelec came out with Resolution 9991, a stricter set of rules on campaign finance.

The Comelec Campaign Finance Office (CFO) stressed the different “unlawful acts” during election season.

Are candidates and their campaign teams aware of these rules?

Unlawful acts related to Campaign Finance and the Fair Election Act

The following donations are prohibited:

Source: Comelec

Unlawful act Who can be liable? When is it unlawful?
Donations from foreigners, foreign governments, and foreign corporations to be used for election campaigns or partisan political activities. Donor and candidate/party Anytime

Donations from public and private financial institutions to be used for partisan political activities.

Donor and candidate/party Anytime

Donations from educational institutions that received grants of public funds of P100,000 or more to be used for partisan political activities.

Educational institution and candidate/party  Anytime

Donations from anyone who was granted government loans or other accommodations of P100,000 or more, to be used for partisan political activities.

Donor and candidate/party Within one year before election day

Donations from anyone who was granted government loans or other accommodations of P100,000 or more, to be used for partisan political activities.

Donor and candidate/party  Anytime

Donations from officials and employees in the Civil Service and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to be used for partisan political activities.

Donor and candidate/party   Anytime
Making donations under someone else’s name.
Accepting donations under someone else’s name.

Donor and candidate/party treasurer

 Anytime

Unlawful acts related to Campaign Finance and the Fair Election Act

What voters and citizens cannot do:

Source: Comelec

Unlawful act Who can be liable? When is it unlawful?
Giving and accepting money, free transportation, food, drinks, or anything of value to be used for partisan political activities.

Any party, candidate, organization, or person 5 hours before and during public meetings,
A day before the election,
Election day
Holding dances, lotteries, cockfights, games, boxing, bingo, beauty contests, or other forms of entertainment in order to raise funds for election campaigns or for the support of any candidate. Anyone   Start of election period until election day
Soliciting or accepting gifts, food, transportation, cash, or anything of value from candidates and their campaign team.  Anyone, including civic and religious organizations  Election period – election day
Making expenditures in support or in opposition of any candidate or party without written authority produced by the candidate, party, and the Comelec. Anyone Campaign period

Unlawful acts related to Campaign Finance and the Fair Election Act

Candidates cannot be involved in the following forms of spending and actions:

Source: Comelec

Unlawful act Who can be liable? When is it unlawful?
Failure to notify the election officer about conducting a public rally in the city or municipality.

Failure to submit a statement of expenses regarding the public rally within 7 working days.
Candidate/party During campaign period,
7 working days after the public rally
Giving and accepting money, free transportation, food, drinks, or anything of value to be used for partisan political activities.

Any party, candidate, organization, or person 5 hours before and during public meetings,
A day before the election,
Election day
Failure to submit their Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) within 30 days after the election.

Donor, candidate/party

After the lapse of the 30 days from the day of election
Campaign overspending.  Candidate/party  When spending cap is exceeded
Making unlawful expenditures. Anyone Campaign period
Giving donations in cash or kind for the construction or repair of roads, bridges, schools, houses, clinics or hospitals, churches, and any structure for public use or any civic and religious organizations. Candidate, candidate’s relative within the 2nd degree of civil consanguinity, campaign manager, agent or representatives Campaign period, 
Day before election,
Election day
Use of public funds and facilities owned or controlled by the government for political campaigns or partisan political activities. Anyone   Anytime
Promising or contstruction of public works. Anyone 45 days before election
Release, disbursement, or expenditure of public funds by public officials or employees, including barangay officials and those from government-owned or controlled corporations, for public works.

Public officials and employees,
GOCCS and their subsidiaries,
Barangay officials

 45 days before election day

The Corporation Code also prohibits corporations from making donations to candidates and political parties. (READ: Toothless laws?)

Candidates cannot spend on everything they want either, only the following forms of expenditures are allowed by law:

All candidates, political parties, and party-list groups are required to submit their Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE), detailing how they financed their campaigns.

SOCEs must be submitted to the Comelec CFO within 30 days after the election. First and second offenses merit administrative fines ranging from P10,000 to P60,000.

Succeeding failures to file SOCEs will mean disqualification.

“Disqualification is not automatic, there’s still a need to institute an action against the offender. It will still undergo notice and hearing,” explained Vergara-Lutchavez.

Campaign finance-related election offenses are initiated by the Comelec CFO, however, anyone may file a complaint against violators (READ: Some candidates dishonest in campaign spending)

Awareness

LAWS. Are candidates aware of the laws governing campaign spending?

“Candidates are not aware that campaign finance compliance enforcement has changed,” said Heaven Torres of Fearless PH, a company specializing in campaign spending.

Most of the candidates believe that they will be ok if they just do what they did in the 2013 elections. This is a misconception,” Torres added.

In previous elections, some candidates were able to get away with “doctored” SOCEs, he said. 

This year, however, the Comelec hopes to get rid of SOCE cheating through its stricter monitoring and its new online reporting system.

In addition, the Comelec said that it has been raising awareness by training its election field officers across the country.

“Field officers do their job in reaching out to local candidates, they conduct briefing and teach campaign spending,” CFO lawyer Maze Vergara-Lutchavez told Rappler.

“In fact, field officers spend out of pocket, they’re frontliners,” she continued.

As for national candidates, Vergara-Lutchavez said they have enough funds to hire lawyers who coordinate with the Comelec regarding campaign spending.

“There are publications of Comelec resolutions, press releases, word of mouth, and candidates can also call the CFO,” Vergara-Lutchavez explained.

Since the Comelec website is currently down, online copies of campaign spending rules are unavailable. 

“Our advice is that if something is unclear, just reach out to field officers or call us directly,” she added.

Aside from lack of awareness, Torres identified other problems the government should address:

  • Some candidates do not have official receipts registered with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), which are required whenever they accept campaign donations. 
  • Some donors do not want to be recognized, hence do not report their donations. 

  • There are donors whose donations do not match their Income Tax Returns. There are donors who are former government officials whose Statement of Assets and Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) do not justify their donations.  

  • Since the spending cap is low, some candidates are pushed to spend their money underground. More candidates are earmarking money for illegal activities like vote buying. (READ: Report vote buying)

The Comelec CFO, however, said they are now working closely with the BIR, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to address such issues.

For this year’s elections, there are over 44,000 candidates nationwide. 

Imagine a relatively small government office like the CFO taking on all these candidates.

The CFO is headed by Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim; joining him are two lawyers and a 23-member staff in charge of reviewing documents.

“The reason why we haven’t boosted staffing is that it requires civil service approval. We have requested but the approval process is long,” said CFO lawyer Sonia Bea Wee-Lozada.

Since there are no local CFOs, the Comelec relies on its field offices for help, said Wee-Lozada.

Judgment day for both candidates and the Comelec will have to wait until June once all SOCEs are turned in.

Will candidates stick to the rules? And more importantly, will the Comelec implement its rules? – Rappler.com

Know of election-related wrongdoing? Use the #PHVoteWatch map to report vote buying and vote selling, campaign finance anomalies, election-related violence, campaign violations, technical glitches, and other problems observed among communities.

Together, let’s each find #TheLeaderIWant and agree on who we want. To volunteer for any of these efforts, email us through move.ph@rappler.com.

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