Where will the bulk of the money, including ‘dark money,’ go to in 2016?

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The traditional sources of funds in all recent presidential election cycles have been these:

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• Plutocrats/oligarchs seeking favors from the president

• Money from the vice lords and syndicates: gambling, narco lords, big-time smugglers etc.

• Big-time contractors specializing in government tenders

• Corporate giants, especially those whose rates and charges are heavily-regulated by government

• The true believers and those who make conscientious donations (all wealthy), easily the minority among the five groups

Out of the big-time funders are the “sugar barons” despite the claim of some pundits that they are still a force to reckon with. The truth is the “sugar barons” have steadily lost their grip on political power starting in 1974, the expiry of the Laurel-Langley Agreement. Now, the “sugar barons” are a phantom power bloc.

Ok, let us make it clearer. It is the “sugar barons” who have effectively shifted to other concerns such as media, real estate, power-generation and retail, they remain part of the funding class.

So, where will the bulk of the campaign contributions go?

It is standard practice (let us call it an SOP) for the four groups except for the principled donors in the fifth category to contribute to all but in varying amounts. The perceived losers get token amounts, the perceived leader and winner gets the bulk of the contributions.

The first four groups, let us call them vested interests, want to play it safe and this is the reason they give to all the serious presidential contenders. A “Black Swan” moment in politics may suddenly elevate a perceived loser into a winner and vested interests cannot come in late in terms of support. So they deem it safe to give to all serious candidates from the get-go of the campaign period regardless of the chance of winning, with the contributions scaled on the chances of winning.

The massive flow of money into presidential campaigns is guided by the mainstream surveys since no other scientific data is available to guide where the big contributions should go. Unlike in more developed democracies where polling is round the clock and performed by many players, here we have two main polling firms at the most. It is not only the candidates that await these surveys. The campaign contributors, with no other data to guide them, just rely on the data from the two mainstream polling firms.

The cluelessness of the contributors, and their reliance on the survey results of the mainstream polling firms, is one factor that has given so much clout and influence to SWS and Pulse Asia. The dearth of serious polling entities contribute to the outsized influence of the two\.

Only the top givers, those who contribute in the multi-million peso level, get to meet the presidential candidate, which is a standard prerequisite for their jumbo contributions. They have to hand over the contribution directly to the candidate at a pre-arranged private meeting. In the 2004 election, the flow of money to a popular presidential candidate was almost frozen at one point. He did not want a meet-and-greet session with the contributors, even a contributor donating over the P100 million level. He set his terms very clearly – a handshake at a campaign rally was what he could give to a big-time donor.

The “small-time” contributors – P10 million is still “ small-time” – have to be content with handing over the contribution to a next of kin of the candidate, normally the wife, husband, sister or brother of the candidate. This is the reason many small-time donors “bundle” their contributions to get the opportunity – as a group – to meet with the candidate.

The most secretive aspect of campaign giving is the movement of money from the crime lords (gambling, narco, smuggling, etc) to the presidential candidates. Some candidates have delicadeza and won’t accept from the vice lords. But some presidential candidates just don’t distinguish between money from business groups that will always try to seek favors anyway and money from the vice lords that seek less scrutiny from law enforcers.

Except in the rare case when the vice lord is a kumpadre of the presidential candidate is the giving done kumpadre to kumpadre. But the standard practice is for the vice lords to give to campaigns through intermediaries – personalities who are close both to the candidate and the vice lord. God knows the political words is filled with such intermediaries – who can link up the candidates with the vice lords. A lawyer with a mainstream practice and connected to the power loop can be an aggressive consigliere for the vice lords.

Like the legitimate businessmen, the vice lords contribute to all, but scaled on the polling numbers of every candidate.

The Philippines, like most Third World countries, have laughable campaign finance laws and it is very easy for vested interest money and money from the vice lords to move massively into presidential campaigns. The main legal requirement, the filing of the SOCE, or the detailed election expenses, is a joke and can easily be manipulated.

The issue on whether or not they influence presidential decisions is a no-brainer. It is a big Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Presidents, almost always, have puppet masters in the form of the demanding plutocracy.

Marlen Ronquillo
mvronq@yahoo.com

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1 Comment

  1. I have always said that the best system for us is one where the government pays for all the candidates campaign expenses and all private donations should be treated as a criminal offense for both donor and candidate. However, the candidates must undergo a process similar the the American primaries, where the delegates are the barangay officials. Those who pass will be the officially subsidized candidates, those who fail in the primaries can still run but they must put up a bond worth somewhere between P20 to P100Million depending on what position they are running for, which they will forfeit if they do not get a certain percentage of the votes. This will guarantee that elected officials will serve the people, and not their donors.