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Group pushes for campaign contribution limits

Election laws in the country should be amended to set a limit on how much donors may give to candidates' campaigns to prevent elected officials from being indebted to a privileged few, a pro-democracy group said.

Participate PH, a consortium of election watchdogs and members of the academe, made the recommendation in a 27-page report on proposed political and electoral reforms.

“[Elections laws should] provide a donation limit per donor or contributor to democratize the opportunity to support candidates. This will minimize the capture of candidates by some moneyed interest,” Participate PH said.

“Such regulation would lessen the influence of individuals or groups from entrenched interests to leverage their contributions for access to public policies. This should also encourage political parties and candidates to partner with more donors, resulting in greater public accountability and institutional capacity strengthening,” it added.

Participate PH said setting limits on how much an individual or a group can donate will also address Section 102J of the Omnibus Election Code, which it says gives legal cover on candidates' spending since it provides that expenses for engaging legal counsel will not be included in determining whether a candidate or a party has complied with expenditure limits.

“This provision is susceptible to becoming a loophole in the law on expenditure limits. Vote protection can be very well classified among those for which legal counsel may be employed,” Participate PH said.

“This could be an avenue for coursing many of the otherwise non-legal expenses of candidates. Putting a more reasonable cap on costs would be a better policy than exempting expenses for the employment of counsel in determining compliance with expenditure limits,” it added.

Premature campaigning

Participate PH also called for the repeal of the definition of a candidate provided by Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Elections Law, which goes by the Supreme Court ruling on Peñera vs. Comelec (2009) providing that an individual is not considered a candidate until the campaign period starts.

This means that while candidates for the national and local elections file their certificate of candidacy (COC) in October a year before election year, their expenses ahead of the campaign period are not counted as campaign expenses since they are not considered a candidate during that period.

“The definition of candidate in the law must cover not only those who have already filed their certificates of candidacy but also those who aspire for or seek an elective office and who have publicly announced the same, or who have, through analogous acts, openly manifested their desire to seek an elective, and those who would eventually file their COC,” Participate PH said.

Participate PH said that the law should adopt Section 79 of the Omnibus Election Code, which defines a candidate as “any person aspiring for or seeking an elective public office, who has filed a certificate of candidacy by himself or through an accredited political party, aggroupment, or coalition of parties.” — BM, GMA Integrated News