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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House hearings zero in on campaign contribution limits

Rep. José “Conny” Varela Fernández

By John McPhaul

The House Electoral Affairs Committee opened public hearings on Monday to address House Bill 1676, which seeks, among other proposals, to limit the annual amount of donations that a person can make to a political campaign.

The measure was filed by the committee chairman, Rep. José “Conny” Varela Fernández and Dignity Project Minority Leader Lisie Burgos Muñiz at the request of the Office of the Electoral Comptroller (OEC). The legislation proposes an extensive list of amendments to the Law for the Control of Political Campaign Financing (Law 222-2011).

“In the country it has grown drastically, there has been an increase in cases of corruption related to the financing of political campaigns, and this House of Representatives wants to contribute, as it has always done, to avoid these situations,” Varela said.

In a presentation in which he emphasized the fight against corruption, Electoral Comptroller Walter Vélez urged the House committee to give priority to advancing the bill as part of efforts made during the pre-electoral year.

One of the bill’s main proposals is to set an annual limit of $250 on the money that can be donated to an aspirant, candidate, committee or political party. The limitation, similar to that existing in the federal law that regulates the financing of electoral campaigns, includes cash, money orders, and manager’s or traveler’s checks.

The $250 limitation involves the combination of cash and guaranteed payment instruments. Velez said the proposal will allow the OEC to more effectively trace the origin of those donations greater than $250.

“The adoption of this measure seeks to provide transparency about the origin of the money donated to the different political committees, while constituting a mechanism to prevent a person from violating the law by making donations with money belonging to another person or in excess of what is allowed by law,” Vélez said.

Another proposal presented by Vélez is to require political committees to identify their collectors and that each donation be matched with its collector.

The information of each collector would be included in the records with the identity of the income and expenditure reports, so that it is visible to voters.

The OEC chief also proposed that the statute of limitations for offenses under Act 222 be increased from five to seven years, in order to give the Department of Justice more time to prosecute potential violations.

Along those lines, he also recommended that criminal liability be imposed on those persons who provide false information about donations and expenses to the treasurer or any authorized personnel of the different committees regulated by Law 222 or the OEC.

New Progressive Party Electoral Commissioner Vanessa Santo Domingo said in her presentation that she cannot endorse the bill as drafted because the proposed measures could be contrary to applicable jurisprudence.

Santo Domingo noted that limiting the amount and manner in which a person can make a donation “would yield to a constitutional attack,” according to the determinations discussed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Likewise, she opposed the elimination of the presumption against coordination of expenses and its restrictive interpretation by indicating that the jurisprudence upholds the right of an aspirant, candidate or party to incur the expenses necessary to carry out an “effective campaign.”

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