Risky start-ups?

A CLOSE look at election spending reports of seven presidential candidates and three political parties in the May 10 polls reveals that election campaigns are funded in the manner and mold of financing for risky business start-ups.

Money comes mostly from personal funds, family members, and friends rather than a wide network of supporters of the political party, organization, or movement. In business, these private-equity sources of funding are ideal for ventures with low success rates but high pay-offs that are usually shunned by banks and the capital markets.

There is also the political equivalent of the venture capitalist: the wealthy individual who is unrelated to the candidate but who makes a big bet on his or her candidacy either because of genuine conviction or shrewd calculation. But the names of these donors and their contributions, which could run to hundreds of millions of pesos, do not usually appear in the official lists, according to campaign fund raisers.

In the last elections, the biggest source of campaign money was none other than Nacionalista Party standard bearer Senator Manuel B. Villar Jr., who reported that he coughed up P431 million of his considerable personal wealth and did not receive a single donation for his presidential bid. Another was former Senator Ma. Ana Consuelo ‘Jamby’ Madrigal, who reported spending P55.2 million of her own money for her presidential bid.

Newly sworn-in President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, meanwhile, raised P440 million, with mainly family members and friends as his top donors. They include Antonio ‘Tonyboy’ Cojuangco, an uncle and former head of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., who gave P100 million; and Kris Aquino-Yap, his famous kid sister, who gave P15 million.

Aquino’s other big donors include Chiong Bu Hong, said to be Mizamis City’s biggest hardware owner, Martin Lorenzo of Pancake House and brother of Luis Lorenzo (former agriculture secretary who had been implicated in the “fertilizer funds scam”), and Fulgencio Factoran Jr., the environment secretary of President Noynoy Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon C. Aquino.

Of former President Estrada’s P227.5 million in total donations, P20 million came from members of the Ejercito family, the biggest contribution to his campaign to regain the presidency. They are joined by close personal friends such as Jaimy Dy, Enrique Razon Jr., Antonio Evangelista, and Jorge Antonio. Current PLDT .chairman Manuel Pangilinan also made a P10-million donation.

Teodoro, the administration party’s presidential candidate, reported the lowest amount of total donations of only P64,000, which was even much less than the P2.2 million raised by environmentalist and independent candidate Nicanor Perlas.

Donations for Teodoro were even less than a tenth of the $20,000 (P920,000) worth of food and drinks consumed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her party in Le Cirque restaurant in New York last year.

According to documents submitted to the Comelec, Teodoro’s party, Lakas-CMD/Kampi, raised P110 million in donations. Of the amount, P100 million came from Emmanuel ‘Noel’ Oñate, one of former President Fidel Ramos’s fund-raisers and operators who struck it big when he sold a budget airline he founded in 1995 for P1.4 billion in 2003.

Similarly, the Liberal Party raised a fourth of its P157-million total donations from its party chief and vice presidential candidate, Manuel Roxas II. Other top donors of the LP include Aquino’s uncle Ramon Cojuangco Jr. and again, Aquino’s kid sister Kris Aquino-Yap.

The Nacionalista Party raised P80 million from just six generous donors:  Charlie Gorayeb, Rolando Evangelista, Ibrahim Nuño, Luis Pastor, Vincent Miranda, and Teresita Medina.

Gorayeb is former national president of the Chamber of Real Estate and Builders’ Association or CREBA, and chairman of the board of four entities, namely, the construction firm Goram Development Corporation, Dolores Industrial Park Corporation, (a special ecozone owner/developer in Malvar, Batangas) Alta-Agri Corporation (engaged in agricultural production); and Red Sea Construction & Realty Corporation (engaged in mining and quarrying of aggregates). He is also the honorary consul-general of the Republic of Djibouti.

Nuño is president of the Metro Stonerich Corporation that supplies construction materials.

Like business start-ups that prove themselves viable, election campaigns also begin to get money from an increasingly wider circle of funders if the candidate does well in the pre-election surveys.

“Surveys are a very important consideration for donors in deciding where to put their money,” said a campaign fund raiser. “Donors may give you a small amount at the beginning but the big money comes in only if you do well in the surveys.”

Many donors also hedge. Some play it safe by donating to several candidates vying for the same position. Few can afford not to give any donation at all.

Remarks one Filipino-Chinese business leader: “If you see your business competitor becoming unduly close to the likely winner, you tend to worry and begin to look for ways to get to know the candidate, too.”  – PCIJ, July 2010