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Toffoli on Corporate Donations

Edison's design for a voting machine

Edison’s design for a voting machine

Source: Portal ClippingMP.

Chief justice of the Electoral Tribunal Dias Toffoli on the prospects for the coming election and the failure of Congress to pass substantial election reform — which might have included a hybrid model of publicly funded elections with allowances for individual, though not corporate, donations, subject to a cap.

Achieving this would be a notable advance in Brazilian civilization, given, as the federal police say, that 50% of corruption is related to campaign finance. Brazil has yet to give birth to its own Open Secrets but is making progress with projects like Excelencias.

The minister of the federal elections tribunal who will preside over the elections of 2014, Dias Toffoli, defends spending limits on election workers and admits there is a risk of voter annulment next year.

Dias Toffoli not only doubles  as a minister of the Supreme Court but will also oversee the voting in 2014.   In an interview with O GLOBO last Friday, he defended the prohibition of corporate contributions to candidate, going so far as to compare fundraising methods to extortion. Toffoli also believes the mass hiring of election workers is turning into a systematic mechanism for the buying of votes, a way of getting around the rules.

The federal police say that more than 50% of the scandals in Brazil evolve from election campaigns. Next year, you will preside over the national elections. What must be done to guarantee clean elections?

In my view, the most important change to the conduct of campaigns is what I call the financing of democracy. Who has the right to finance democracy? If democracy is government by the people, only the citizen has the right to to participate with donations. Those who do not vote do not have the right to participate as financiers. Current law, however, permits this. There is a constitutional challenge filed by the Brazilian Order of Attorneys making its way though the Supreme Court, with Luis Fux assigned as rapporteur. This topic will have to be confronted at some point by the STF. My view is that it is not permitted by the Constitution for companies to finance democracy.

But why are these proposals for ending private financing of election campaigns never approved by Congress?

Here in Brazil, this is a debate that turns on the dichtomy of private versus public finance. But this dichotomy must distinguish between donations by individual voters and financing by corporations. SO long as Brazilian law allows corporate donations, you are going to be creating an atmosphere of intimacy and affinity between corporations and candidacies. This, I think, is not good for democracy.

How, then, should campaigns be funded?

Translation to resume.

Campaigns should be financed as follows. First of all, there should be a spending cap. Today, it is the candidates — and their parties — themselves that determine spending. This ceiling should be legally incumbent on every campaign. On the other hand, where should the candidate obtain these funds? Partly from public funding, managed by the party campaign chest. The other part would come from partisan sympathizers and party members. Individuals, not corporations. And individual donations should observe the same limit we have now: 2% of personal income in the prevous year as declared to the tax authority. 

Do you think this would be enough to lower the risk of corruption?

I think it would have a powerful effect. Today, we have various ways of doing away with excesses. But when you have the opportunity for corporations to donate to campaigns legally, … So, what happens today? The treasurer of a presidential campaign, instead of appealing to partisans of the same persuasion, or related political parties, they write a memo  to the major corporations and goes calling, looking for a contribution. And what do these companies do?

“Fine, if I finance Candidate A, you have to give to Candidates B and C.” “Yes, but why are you giving  more to A and B?” And what is the answer? Because A is leading in the polls. The system we have today  (with corporate given) is not reasonable.

And how to crack down on vote-buying?

Vote-buying has become endemic in Brazil. It was over a case of vote-buying that Article 41A was added to the Electoral Law. This Article punishes vote-buyers with the loss of their elective mandate.

This rule,which combats corruption and the buying of votes during election seasons wound up creating a system that is also endemic in Brazil, and that is professional campaign managers. There are people who become professionals by working for candidate throught the whole of the client’s mandate, and not just during election season, to run the campaign for this, that or the other political group. These are persons whom you are paying regularly over time, and not just during the election season. 

So do you think it is correct to say that more than half of all corruption cases emerge from political campaigns?

I do not have the data.  But the incestuous relation (between companies and candidates) borders of extortion: “See here, either your contribute to my campaign or I cannot be your friend if I am elected.” Either that or “If I win and you contributed, you will be my friend.

In this type of relationship,  Nesse tipo de relação, que está subentendida na relação de financiamento das campanhas por empresas, há um jogo de interesses, sem dúvida nenhuma, porque empresas não têm ideologia. Como disse, eu não tenho esses dados, mas é bem provável.

Deveria se limitar a contratação ou cadastrar os cabos eleitorais?

O cadastro de cabos eleitorais no período eleitoral por si só não resolve o problema da profissionalização constante de líderes comunitários nas várias regiões do país por pessoas que têm mandatos ou por agrupamentos políticos. Há que pensar numa limitação do financiamento das campanhas. Eu penso que esse é o grande tema.

O pais tem hoje 33 partidos, e a tendência é aumentar. Esse crescimento de partidos é um problema para a democracia?

O problema para a democracia não é o número de partidos. O grande problema não está no grande número de partidos e, sim, na democracia interna desses partidos.

Depois da onda de manifestações, o senhor acredita que as eleições poderão ser mais limpas que as anteriores?

Eu penso que o grande resultado dessas próximas eleições vai ser a leitura de um reflexo dessas manifestações, dessas frustrações que hoje a sociedade demonstra através de protestos públicos. Se aumentar o número de votos nulos, se aumentar o número de candidaturas ditas de protesto, isto vai se traduzir numa autorreflexão que a classe política terá de fazer.