Crowdfunding has not been the political tool people thought it would be
political crowdfunding brazil 2018 election bernie sanders

Crowdfunding has not been the political tool people thought it would be

Corporate donations were, for decades, the primary source of funds for political parties and politicians running for office in Brazil. The vast inflow of money helped give wings to their creativity, which produced memorable television ads with cinematic sequences shot in different regions of the country. Not to mention the monstrous production program to find the right characters that would help a campaign transmit the right message to voters.

Then came Operation Car Wash, in 2014. The biggest anti-corruption investigation in Brazilian history unveiled the corrupt relations between big business and politicians. Bribes in the form of campaign donations were frequently paid in exchange for hefty contracts with state-owned companies. To make sure that the companies would win – regardless of the elections’ outcome, both sides of the aisle received large donations.

That frenzy is now over, as in 2015 the Supreme Court decided to forbid donations from companies. To compensate for the loss of revenue, Congress created a BRL 1.7 billion electoral fund, financed with taxpayer money, divided up according to the number of seats each political party holds in the House. Parties also have access to a BRL 888.7 million fund used to pay for “political activities,” including campaigns. Politicians are also allowed self-funding, which helps rich candidates – the case of many elected officials.

There is also a new source of funding this time around: crowdfunding campaigns. 


political crowdfunding brazil 2018 election bernie sanders


How does political crowdfunding work in Brazil?

Seven presidential candidates have resorted to this new income source, recently authorized by the Electoral Justice system. Each voter can donate up to 10 percent of his or her declared gross income in 2017 – and the daily cap for donations is BRL 1,000. So far, candidates have raised almost BRL 1 million, which wouldn’t be much in 2014 – when campaigns cost a combined BRL 5 billion – but it is of great help now.

No candidate has gained as many donations as former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Despite being in prison since April 7, Lula leads in all polls and would win the race if the election were today. His crowdfunding campaign has gained BRL 428,793 from 4,562 donors. While that’s twice as much as the second place in the ranking, libertarian conservative João Amoêdo, it isn’t in the same ballpark as Dilma Rousseff’s BRL 350 million in donations four years ago. That money, of course, came mostly from big business.

Three important candidates – center-right Geraldo Alckmin, right-wing Henrique Meirelles, and far-right Jair Bolsonaro – haven’t even launched their platforms, nor have announced plans to do so. Mr. Meirelles once suggested he could rely on crowdfunding, but most of his campaign money will come from his own pocket.


political crowdfunding brazil 2018 election bernie sanders


Not much enthusiasm

“The role of crowdfunding in the presidential race has been very disappointing. In the 2016 U.S. election, Bernie Sanders raised, over a three-month span, USD 26 million during the primaries of the Democratic Party. I’m surprised by how little candidates have raised – and by the fact that only two candidates concentrate almost 70 percent of donations,” says Cyrus Afshar, a social scientist at the University of São Paulo. “This is not a matter of wealth. It’s a deeper problem: Brazil doesn’t have a culture of individual donations, and the country lacks institutional mechanisms to encourage that,” he explains.

The performance of crowdfunding campaigns, as Mr. Afshar points out, “is a thermometer of political enthusiasm.” In a country where two-thirds of people don’t trust political parties and 12.7 percent of people are unemployed, don’t expect voters to hand their money to presidential hopefuls.

Mr. Afshar doesn’t expect the low enthusiasm trend to change anytime soon. “After the party conventions are over and the campaign really kicks off, that amount raised through crowdfunding campaigns will look like nickels and dimes. And [the poor performance] will further discourage potential donors,” says Mr. Afshar.

A well-organized campaign may help to engage voters and supporters on social media, but candidates shouldn’t expect voters to give them much more than “likes” or “shares.”

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PowerJul 31, 2018

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BY Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.