Capitalize on your Weakness

The author is the political and foreign affairs specialist of the Action for Economic Reforms.

Memo for Raul Roco:

A president cannot be isolated. He has to speak and listen to as many
people as possible. Yet we know how he speaks and listens to some more
than others. That is called access. but we all know that access to a
president comes with campaign contributions and strong support.

People accept that and can live with it. Access is neutral, neither
good nor bad in itself. Most people care about who the president
listens to among those who have access to him.

Many say you are not winnable because you do not have the funds for a
serious campaign, or for ensuring your votes will be counted. They say
that despite many offers to contribute to your campaign, you refused
because you do not wish to become president through the help of those
with dubious agenda. You have said many times: “People win elections
and not money.” That is theoretically true but unrealistic based on the
historical reality of elections, not only here but in practically any
country where people choose leaders through popular elections.

” People win elections and not money” is a good campaign line but money
plays a crucial role in a popular election. You must squarely face this
issue of money. How?

Remember that TV show where you appeared with the other presidential
wannabes and Manuel Quezon III asked you to name your 10 biggest
donors? That question was a “gift” for you but sadly, you did not
capitalize on it.

If I were Raul Roco, this is how I would have answered. First, I would
have said that campaign donors and candidates share similar views on
the problems plaguing the country and their possible solutions. I would
stress the obvious by saying that this is why people support a
candidate in the first place. Then I would overemphasize that by
adding, if the voters knew the major donors or supporters of a
candidate, they would have a good idea about that candidate’s
priorities, and who would have his ear, outside of his official family.
I might joke that they would also get to know a candidate’s favorite
whiskey label. Then I would have looked at my rivals who, I would
assume, are nodding their heads in agreement over the uncontroversial
things that I had said so far – and I would have named my biggest
donors – then challenged the other candidates to do likewise.

Make the identities of financial backers and supporters a big issue in
the coming elections. Call your campaign contributors, “donors” and
their campaign contributors,”financial backers.” This will mark your
campaign as a crusade and theirs a business venture.

Name your top donors and supporters. Hopefully, your donors will be
asked why they support you. Since people know you don’t take money from
just anybody, your donors will be seen as credible; you now have free
endorsements from respectable people.

If your rivals refer to some election spending law, remind them that
such laws do not stop dirty money from financing political campaigns,
do not prevent overspending. and do not reflect real spending. Remind
them that in the 1992 presidential elections, Jovito Salonga’s election
spending report showed he outspent Imelda Marcos, Danding Cojuangco,
Ramon Mitra, Miriam Santiago and Fidel Ramos. Do you want your
candidacy to hinge on the Comelec’s enforcement of a joke?

Ask your rivals: Who is providing you with the wherewithal to spend
what you are spending? Why are you taking their money? Why are they
part of your team?

Such questions can stop donors with doubtful interests from giving to
their candidate openly. A decent candidate will think twice about
accepting financial backing and support from questionable sources.

The unscrupulous candidate and his backer will have to resort to
indirect campaign financing and that will work in your favor. It is
right down your alley because you have an open campaign. For
transparency’s sake, reveal your donors and the other candidates’
financial backers. Do it for them if they don’t do it themselves.

The questions will discourage business interests who want you as
president, from hedging their bets. Hedgers will be branded as those
who expediently switch sides, and their ethics and loyalty will be
questioned. What businessman would want to be publicly known as a
hedger who supported you and (fill in the blanks) – just in case?

The queries may force some candidates to claim they are self-financed.
Which only raises obvious questions like, where did all that money come
from? Does no one believe in him or her enough to help out?

Who is providing you with the wherewithal to spend what you are
spending? Why are you taking their money? Why are they part of your
team?

If you are lucky, the media may realize that there is a lot of traction
in these questions. If they pick it up – let them run with it.
Encourage them to report on the number of election posters,
commercials, rallies, private polling, sophistication of organization,
and campaign consultants and extrapolate the amounts spent for these.

Good poll results juxtaposed with campaign war chests will carry your
message. If your poll numbers are not so good, modify your campaign
line to “People should win elections – not money.” It will add a moral
imperative, turn your campaign into a crusade and inspire your people
work harder.

Elections are like beauty contests where the one with the best makeup and PR wins.

These things take money – which you don’t have. So level the playing
field, make money difficult for everybody by making clean money the
only money acceptable in this election.

We may finally have an election over character, issues and platforms.
People should win elections and not money. That’s the way it should be.

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