Campaign finance reform | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Campaign finance reform

/ 04:20 AM September 06, 2023

A few weeks ago, the House approved House Bill No. 8370 which amends Section 13 of Republic Act No. 7166 by increasing the limits of authorized campaign spending of parties and candidates in national and local elections. As explained by Speaker Martin Romualdez, the spending cap limits under RA 7166 established in 1991 are no longer realistic, given the annual inflation over the past 32 years. Romualdez further pointed out that the bill would also encourage transparency and honesty among candidates and political parties in reporting their campaign expenses to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), as “the present unrealistic limits may force aspirants and political groups to submit untruthful reports.”

While mid-term elections are set for 2025 and the next presidential elections are further off in 2028, it is never too early to discuss and hopefully find ways to improve and make our electoral system more transparent, secure, and fair. Our current electoral system is badly in need of reforms in several areas, and considering that implementing these reforms not only falls on the Comelec, legislative action may be needed as well. We all know that amending and passing laws take time, so it’s only right to discuss these issues early enough.

Given that the latest bill passed by the House deals with matters related to campaign finances, we can perhaps look at some key reforms worth considering if there is truly a sincere desire to improve our electoral system. On this subject, I note two particular areas for reform, namely, donor transparency, and the need to make political parties matter more than the candidates.

While I have no issue with increasing the limits of campaign spending being proposed under HB 8370, I believe there is a strong clamor for more donor transparency. With every campaign being awash with huge sums of money, the question most people may be asking is: from whom, and where does all this money come from? With the advent of social media, rumors abound about various political donors and the amounts given to candidates.

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Section 14 of RA 7166 requires the submission of a statement of contributions and expenditures (Soce) within 30 days after the election. The law requires candidates to identify and list in detail contributions they have received. Furthermore, Section 110 of the Omnibus Election Code allows for such documents to be inspected by the public. Yet one must ask: Does the Comelec scrutinize these submissions for accuracy? Does it have the resources and capability to ensure that everything is in accordance with the provisions of Article XI of the Omnibus Election Code?

There are a lot of questions when it comes to the issue of donor transparency because as everybody knows, money not only buys goods and services; it can also secure influence and leverage, and push “special” interests. The risks and dangers of a lack of transparency regarding funding electoral campaigns lie not only in terms of a compromised electoral system and the corruption of our political environment and officials, but also in how it impacts our national security. In some parts of the world, narco-politics and undue influence and interference by foreign powers are a reality. It is, by the way, considered unlawful under Section 96 of the Omnibus Election Code “to solicit or receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or contribution of whatever form or nature from any foreign national, government, or entity.”

Given what’s at stake, the importance of donor transparency cannot be overemphasized when it comes to campaign finance reforms. Apparently, present laws already have provisions that make this possible. While the public may have recourse to inspect the Soce of candidates and parties, there must also be a corresponding and more aggressive effort by state agencies to strictly enforce and implement existing provisions under our election laws regarding not only the timely but also accurate filing of the Soce, so we can further improve donor transparency.

Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer, and was posted as a diplomat at the Philippine consulate general in Los Angeles, and the Philippine Embassy in Washington.

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TAGS: campaign finance reform, Commentary

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