Thou shall not donate

BY ALL indications, the May 2016 elections are no different from previous polls in which those donating to the campaign coffers of candidates and political parties turn out to be the same business owners and executives yet again. In past elections, the names of the prohibited corporations themselves were listed in the Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) that the partisans have filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The situation has prompted the Comelec Campaign Finance Office (CFO) to remind candidates running in the 2016 elections that all corporations are not allowed to donate to their campaigns.

The reminder has resulted, however, in more and more names of individual donors, including the majority owners of big companies banned from giving donations, showing up in SOCEs.

Read previous PCIJ stories on campaign donors:
* In 2013: Firms in the red, gov’t contractors, top donors of Senate bets, parties

* In 2010: Venture capitalists or true believers? Only 308 donors funded campaign for presidency
A year ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had reiterated and ruled it absolutely taboo for all corporate entities in the country to donate to candidates and political parties.

SEC Opinion No. 15-08 issued on July 27, 2015 bans all companies from donating any amounts to candidates and political parties.

Signed by Camilo S. Correa, SEC general counsel, “by authority of the Commission En Banc,” the ruling states, “Section 36(9) of the Corporation Code imposes an absolute prohibition for corporations, both foreign and domestic, from giving any donations to any political party, candidate, or for the purpose of any partisan political activity.” (underscoring supplied in SEC Opinion No. 15-08)

In Section 144, the Corporation Code or Batas Pambansa Blg. 68 says that “violations of any of the provisions of this Code or its amendments not otherwise specifically penalized therein shall be punished by a fine of not less than one thousand pesos but not more than ten thousand pesos, or by imprisonment for not less than 30 days but nor more than five years, or both, in the discretion of the court.”

The same section of the Code, however, says, “If the violation is committed by a corporation, the same may, after notice and hearing, be dissolved in appropriate proceedings before the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

Unsurprisingly, Rona Ann V. Caritos, executive director of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), thinks that this particular provision in the law should be amended, precisely because lawyers could interpret it in different ways. But at its most basic, she says, the purpose of the prohibition is to prevent conflict of interest.

“If you donate and you’re engaged in a contract with government and the candidate you gave a substantial donation wins in the elections, it’s natural for us to expect that you might get contracts,” she adds.

Caritos even says that it’s LENTE’s stand that the prohibition should extend to a corporation’s board of directors and board of trustees. She argues that such board members are the ones who set the policy or program of the corporation; in short, they have a say on how the company operates. — PCIJ, December 2016