(STAR) By Babe Romualdez - As the campaign season starts with most candidates declaring their bids one after the other, the squeeze on businessmen for campaign contributions will also tighten as the run-up to the 2010 elections draws nearer.

Virtually every kind of businessman will feel the squeeze, although many, particularly the big players, have become a lot smarter through the years. One tycoon says he will be staying away from the country for the next six months obviously to avoid those who will be knocking on his doors starting next month.

Another one has thought of a smarter plan by telling candidates he will reimburse their expenses after they win. Still another businessman has wised up even more by saying he will also be running, figuring this is much cheaper than having to pony up for every candidate.

However, there are candidates who need not sing and dance just to be able to attract contributors. Because they are perceived to be very winnable, people are the ones eager to give, like in the case of Joseph Estrada when he ran in 1998. Such was his popularity that business people were lining up to contribute – so much so that Erap had to turn down many because he didn’t need them anymore.

But more often than not, candidates from the local level up to national positions will be looking to the business sector to bankroll the bulk of their campaign expenses. Some are also said to be taking advantage of their perceived “winnability” by going to potential “donors” and telling them it would be much better to pay up now because it would be “more expensive” later for those who refuse once the candidate wins.

Naturally, the promise of payback figures in the equation, which makes it all the more difficult for this country to get rid of patronage politics. Ironically, the Comelec has rather stringent rules regarding campaign contributions, which, when strictly followed would force every candidate to finance his campaign all by himself.

Specifically, Comelec prohibits contributions from the following: public or private financial institutions (like banks, although loans are allowed); operators of public utilities and those with licenses to exploit natural resources (mining and logging companies, transportation and electricity firms); those with contracts to supply goods and services to government, and those with construction contracts (which just about encompasses majority of businesses in the country); recipients of franchises, exemptions, allocations and similar privileges (which could cover broadcast companies, telecom companies and others that require franchises); government officials and employees and members of the AFP; and foreigners and foreign corporations (which means Filipinos who have opted for foreign citizenship cannot contribute).

While political campaign solicitations also happen in the US, the methods are more sophisticated, and their laws are much more explicit concerning campaign finance, setting clear limits on how much an individual can contribute to a particular candidate, plus the fact that candidates are entitled to government funds via a public financing system.

In 2008 for instance, John McCain received $84 million federal funding – but this limited his ability to receive donations from private sources.

In contrast, Barack Obama opted out of public financing, preferring to raise money through fundraising from private contributions which mostly came from ordinary Americans repeatedly contributing small amounts. The public financing system was established specifically to prevent politicians from being beholden to contributors and equalize the fight for popular candidates who may not have access to huge campaign funds.

There are, however, a lucky few who need not depend so much on contributions to mount a formidable campaign, like Manny Villar who has publicly stated that he has already provided for the financial security of his children, which is why he is prepared to spend, and use his resources to be able to serve this country.

Manny has no intention to get back his expenses in any form except to be able to help his fellow Filipinos more than he has already done so, which can only be possible if he gets elected to the highest position in the land.

Mar Roxas is also another candidate who has the resources necessary to support his candidacy. Mar was also quoted as saying he would bankroll part of Noynoy’s campaign expenses – which should give you an idea about the amount of money the Araneta clan is willing to shell out to ensure the winnability of the Liberal Party tandem.

However, the recent decision of the government to impose a five percent tax on election expenses and contributions, plus the requirement for campaign donors to register with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, is being hit as a ploy to discourage businessmen from contributing to the opposition since they will be identified and could be subjected to all kinds of harassment by the government, Jojo Binay pointed out.

Obviously, the administration party will have an undue advantage since it can use all government resources to help its candidates, and at the same time, it can be easily “persuade” businessmen to contribute since the administration controls government contracts and the issuance of permits, licenses and other business requirements.

Campaign contributions have been around since the time of Quezon, and it’s inevitable for candidates to solicit funding from businessmen and those who can afford to donate a substantial amount. There are those who allegedly resort to so-called “grey money” – which comes from illegal activities like kidnappings, bank robberies, illegal gambling, smuggling or drugs – to bankroll their campaign, but these things happen more on the local, rather than the national, level.

What is important however is for clean, honest and credible elections to take place in 2010.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved