How transparent will Brazil’s 2020 elections be?

campaign donations 2020 elections brazil Protest against private campaign donations in front of Brazil's Congress buildings

Back in 2017, Brazilian lawmakers approved the end of private campaign financing. After dozens of scandals involving major corporations supporting candidates in a quid pro quo manner, there was a growing consensus that removing the possibility of private groups funding political races was the only way to make the system more credible. Last year, Brazil

had its first elections under the new rules. </p> <p>The 2018 budget set aside BRL 1.7 billion for Brazilian parties to spend, split according to each one&#8217;s representation in the lower house. For 2020, the political establishment decided to <a href="">amend the rules</a>—reducing transparency in accounting and even leaving loopholes allowing political groups to keep unofficial books.</p> <p>Despite public outcry, Congress passed the new rules. On Friday (September 27), President Jair Bolsonaro vetoed 14 articles of the bill. But while the president publicly positioned himself against looser campaign finance legislation, his vetoes still left major gaps from which political parties can profit.&nbsp;</p> <h2>The new rules for the 2020 elections</h2> <p>Many of the noteworthy aspects approved are related to the so-called partisan fund, a BRL 1 billion pot of public money split among parties every year (even in non-election years) to help parties fund their day-to-day operations.</p> <ul><li>If one party&#8217;s books are not approved by electoral courts, it will have to return the sums flagged, with an added 20-percent fine. Since 2015, the law says that parties can use the money they receive from the partisan fund to pay their fines. Now, however, the discounts to pay back the fines are limited to 50 percent of monthly payments—reducing the actual punishment for wrongdoing.</li><li>This fund for day-to-day operations may also be used to pay for legal fees in electoral courts in lawsuits against any of a party&#8217;s candidates (including those who were not elected).&nbsp;</li><li>Public money can also be used to purchase and rent real estate.</li><li>Parties will be allowed to use public money to pay for boosting content on social media, with the exception of the six months before election day. They will also have access to all data related to their members—a valuable asset to galvanize supporters through targeted ads.</li><li>The money each party will receive will continue to be distributed according to their representation in Congress. However, it will consider how many seats each party won in the previous election (no longer going off a year-to-year calculation).</li><li>Partisan bureaucracy is also set to be slashed. Instead of having to keep all records in Brasília, parties will be able to register their activities in notary offices across the country.</li></ul> <p>Some of these rules are set to benefit Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s Social Liberal Party. It would now be able to defend itself from allegations of embezzling public money by … using public money. Moreover, it preserves the president&#8217;s party&#8217;s funding for 2020—despite internal struggles that are leading many of its members migrating to new homes.</p> <p>But the president did veto some of the bill&#8217;s most controversial points.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Bolsonaro&#8217;s vetoes</h2> <p>Always sensitive to public pressure, Jair Bolsonaro issued <a href="">14 vetoes</a> to the bill. Here are the most important:</p> <ul><li>Lawmakers passed an article allowing parties to use public funds to pay for trips of staff—even when they are not registered party members. The president, however, suspended this provision.</li><li>Mr. Bolsonaro also removed permissions for parties to use the public fund to pay for fines, interest, and debt resulting from non-compliance with electoral rules.</li><li>The president also positioned himself against free airtime for parties on TV and radio. These free TV spots (paid for with public money) were abolished as a way of reducing public spending on the partisan fund.</li><li>Mr. Bolsonaro vetoed the possibility of using private accounting systems to compile parties&#8217; books. He justified it by saying that the Superior Electoral Court already has a system—and that changing standards would &#8220;reduce oversight and transparency.&#8221;</li></ul> <h2>Congress&#8217; reaction</h2> <p>Lawmakers were predictably unhappy with the president&#8217;s changes—and some party whips are already in talks to &#8220;veto the vetoes.&#8221;</p> <p>Last week, both the House and Senate struck down Mr. Bolsonaro vetoes of the &#8220;Abuse of Office Act,&#8221; which aims to punish law enforcement agents who commit &#8220;excesses.&#8221; Senators were particularly disgruntled with a recent Federal Police operation targeting the government&#8217;s whip in the upper house, Senator Fernando Bezerra. They took the government&#8217;s silence on the issue as an endorsement of what they considered to be an &#8220;outrage.&#8221;

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