Why candidates run for public office | Inquirer Opinion

Why candidates run for public office

/ 04:06 AM January 10, 2022

The official campaign period has not started, but election candidates are already campaigning like crazy. This early, we already know those who have a fighting chance of winning, those who are most likely to lose, and those who stand no chance at all. This is true for candidates running for president, vice president, senator, congressman, governor, and mayor.

But why are candidates willing to run, spend, and toil, even though all indicators show that the odds are stacked heavily against them? By this time, the Commission on Elections has already weeded out the nuisance candidates, so those who run for “clowning” glory are out of the picture. Candidates decide to run for office not necessarily because of a singular reason, but for a combination of any of the motivations discussed below.


First, there are candidates who are optimistic that they stand a chance of winning notwithstanding public perception to the contrary. These candidates have expectations and projections that are different from the public’s. They calculate that the stretch of four months until election day allows enough room for a change of political fortunes. This has been achieved by a few candidates in the past, and they calculate that they can achieve the same feat.

Second, there are candidates who are in the running for reasons other than winning. There are those who espouse ideologies or issues, and the election gives them the biggest platform to get public attention for their advocacies. Some candidates run because they’re needed by a presidential candidate to window-dress a full slate. There are also those who run knowing that they will lose, but they expect to be rewarded with an appointment to a plum post if their presidential candidate wins. And then there are those who run to give their names a boost of name recall, which they can then convert as reputational capital for professional or business purposes, or to bolster another run for a more realistic elective position in the future.


Third, there are candidates who run for monetary reasons. Vying for an elective post provides an excuse to solicit campaign contributions, especially for those who served in government and who dispensed business, security, and other favors to individuals or corporations. A candidate can spend a portion of solicited funds to prop up a nominal campaign, and then pocket the sizeable balance for personal gain. Elections provide a viable windfall-making venture because there is no law prohibiting a candidate from pocketing as personal income any excess campaign contribution. The Bureau of Internal Revenue has effectively given candidates the license to pocket excess campaign funds by issuing a circular that treats said funds as taxable income. In local elections, there are also those who run in order to solicit from other candidates monetary reward in exchange for their withdrawal from the race.

Fourth, there may be candidates who run for public office as a money-laundering scheme. Public officials who accumulated ill-gotten wealth while in government may run for an elective post and declare fictitious unspent campaign contributions as a means to legitimize their unexplained wealth. They can declare excess campaign funds as windfall income, thereby laundering clean their otherwise dirty money.

Fifth, an election provides a stage that generates public attention for individuals who crave fame. Running for office feeds big egos. It also gives the same adrenaline rush associated with gambling, because getting elected into office can yield a bonanza of great wealth as viewed by those with unscrupulous intentions.

In the distant past, majority of our country’s aspiring leaders ran with a genuine offer to serve the public good. There are still a few who fit the old mold, but they now belong to a very rare breed. Much to our country’s detriment, they are overshadowed by those who mouth public service as subterfuge for self-interest.

Now, go through the list of presidential candidates and examine the reason(s) why each one of them is running for public office.

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