Big spenders in next year's elections will be under the radar of poll watchdog National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).
The Omnibus Election Code puts a cap on election spending, and a violation is considered an election offense punishable by imprisonment of not less than one year and disqualification from holding public office.
Under the law, a candidate with a political party (except presidential and vice-presidential candidates) is allowed to spend P3 per registered voter while the party can spend P5 per voter. This means a candidate with a party can spend a maximum of P8 per voter. Independent candidates are allowed to spend P5 per registered voter.
Presidential and vice-presidential candidates, on the other hand, are allowed to spend P10 per voter. This amount does not include the additional P5 per voter for those who have a party. Candidates for these two positions can spend as much as P15 per voter.
Based on the 45 million registered voters in 2007, the expenditure limit of a senatorial candidate with a party is P360 million. In the presidential and vice-presidential race, the limit is P675 million.
Damaso Magbual, a member of Namfrel’s executive committee, said the poll watchdog is considering monitoring the expenses of national candidates in next year’s elections. “We are in the planning stage,” he said.
Magbual said Namfrel, in 2001, monitored the campaign expenses of some candidates not only in Metro Manila but also in the provinces. In that pilot project, Namfrel gathered evidence of overspending by particular candidates and asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to verify its findings and file cases, if necessary.
The Comelec, however, failed to act citing its limited resources.
Overspending during the campaign is an open secret among candidates, but no one has been prosecuted, except former Senator Raul Manglapus. Manglapus was pinned down for overspending in the 1960s based on his declared statement of expenditures.
Yet, the submission of statement of expenditures and donations has been decriminalized with only a penalty imposed on those who fail to submit their statements. The rationale for this, according to election lawyer Sixto Brillantes, is that no person should incriminate himself by submitting a record of expenses that could be used against the candidate.
Besides, Brillantes said no candidate would ever admit that he or she had overspent in the elections to avoid committing an election offense. Statements of expenditures and donations are generally accepted as watered-down versions of the actual expenses.
P1 billion to P2 billion
The fact that candidates, especially those seeking the presidency, incur expenses beyond the legal limit has been confirmed by two national figures, a presidential candidate who lost, and another who is eyeing Malacañang.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said presidential aspirants should have at least P2 billion to finance their campaign, while Senator Manuel Villar, who has said he will run in next year's presidential race, earlier taunted potential rivals when he said they should drop from the race if they cannot raise P1 billion.
Magbual is optimistic that Namfrel will be able to monitor the expenses of candidates on a national scale considering that it has chapters nationwide. Ad spending in television and radio can also easily be cross-checked with media entities.
With the passage of the Fair Elections Act, which lifted the ban of political ads, the bulk of campaign expenses will be concentrated on ad spending.