Opinion

Why Bolsonaro’s “secret budget” is much worse than Lula’s Mensalão

Many have equated the main corruption scandal during the Lula years to Jair Bolsonaro's so-called "secret budget." But the comparison is not accurate

corruption scandal President Jair Bolsonaro and House Speaker Arthur Lira (right) have worked in tandem to jack up budgetary grants for lawmakers. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR
President Jair Bolsonaro and House Speaker Arthur Lira (right) have worked in tandem to jack up budgetary grants for lawmakers. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

There is a pattern in Brazilian politics: every president is implicated in at least one corruption scandal involving the legislative branch. That includes the two frontrunners in the 2022 presidential race — Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ruled the country between 2003 and 2010, and Jair Bolsonaro, the incumbent.

Lula was involved in the “Mensalão” scandal, a vote-buying arrangement that incentivized members of Congress to vote for legislation sponsored by his party in return for monthly stipends. Mr. Bolsonaro, in turn, has benefited from the so-called “secret budget,” a system of opaque budgetary grants that gives lawmakers influence over the...

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