Why Brazil must regulate lobbying

. Aug 03, 2018
lobbying brazil operation car wash corruption politics brazil government Lobbying remains unregulated in Brazil

In their book about lobbying, political scientists Emiliano Grossman and Sabine Saurugger define an interest group as “an entity which has the objective of representing the interests of a specific sector of society within the public arena.” So, it would be in democracy’s very nature that people, companies, and organizations try to influence public officials to obtain their objectives – through studies, protests, petitions, and campaigns. Many entities even pay top dollar for professionals dedicated to that activity.

In Brazilian politics, though, few terms can sound as offensive as calling someone a “lobbyist.” In these parts, lobbying is seen as a dishonorable activity, in which only the corrupt would engage. That helps explain why the activity remains unregulated by Brazil’s legislation – and why even proposing to regulate it sounds to some people like advocating in favor of lobbyists.

For the past ten years, a bill aiming to change the legal framework around lobbying has been sitting in the lower house archives. At the beginning of the year, it was finally presented to the House’s committees, which all approved it. Now, the bill must be submitted to a floor vote.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite being unregulated, lobbying is not illegal in Brazil. There are 2,000 registered professional lobbyists in the country, according to the association representing the sector. They mainly work in law firms, communication agencies, or, in the case of big conglomerates, within the companies they represent.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In February 2018, the Ministry of Labor included lobbying as an official occupation. Which means that lobbyists are now officially recognized by the government. The official description of the job is &#8220;to participate in policy making, elaborating strategies of relations with the government, analyzing risks created by regulations, and defend specific interests.&#8221; It is the first time that lobbying is included in official documents as a legitimate activity. </span></p> <h2>How lobbying became a dirty word</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The activity became stigmatized and linked to corruption in the 1970s, explains Andréa Cristina Oliveira Gozetto, a social scientist specializing in government relations and public policies at think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas. She is one of the authors of a recent book on lobbying and policy-making (</span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Lobby e políticas públicas&#8221;</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, in the original title).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Ms. Gozetto, the term &#8220;lobbying&#8221; started to be used by the Brazilian media to qualify any attempt to influence or convince public officials. As the country was under authoritarian rule, the decision-making process was very centralized and opaque. &#8220;The term lobbying became associated with illegal activities such as corruption and influence peddling,&#8221; she told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Recent scandals such as Operation Car Wash didn&#8217;t help the sector&#8217;s reputation. Federal prosecutors discovered that many suppliers of Petrobras, Brazil&#8217;s state-owned oil and gas company, included large sums of dirty money as part of their playbook. Almost every week, Brazilians read headlines of a new lobbyist going behind bars.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But despite what the scandals might suggest, </span><a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/07/12/foreign-companies-corruption-brazil/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">corruption</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> and influence peddling is by no means inherent to the activity of lobbying. &#8220;It is rather a way to represent interests present in developed democratic societies,&#8221; says Ms. Gozetto. Brazil&#8217;s 1988 Constitution had even laid the grounds for lobbyists to be fully accepted as legitimate political actors, she explains.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Nelson Jobim has a similar opinion. &#8220;Even with no specific legislation, lobbying exists and is regulated by the Constitution, as freedom of association and reunion, among others, and by internal rules [in Congress],&#8221; he wrote in an </span><a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrissima/2018/02/lobby-precisa-ser-regulamentado-e-tirado-das-sombras-defendem-autores.shtml"><span style="font-weight: 400;">op-ed</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> this year.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Also, precisely because of the scandals, regulating lobbying is necessary. &#8220;Money and influence are powerful instruments in policy making, even if legally accepted. That why it is necessary to make lobbying public and licit,&#8221; wrote Wagner Pralon, in a </span><a href="http://www.ipea.gov.br/portal/images/stories/PDFs/TDs/td_2334.pdf"><span style="font-weight: 400;">study</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> published by Brazil&#8217;s Institute for Applied Economics.</span></p> <h2>How does the world see lobbying?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The U.S. was the first country to regulate the sector, with the 1946 Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act. Professional lobbyists have to identify themselves and are obligated to inform which interests they defend, how much is being spent on it, and log the meetings they attend. Ms. Gozetto says this information is on the public record. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But, in her opinion, the best model for Brazil would </span><a href="http://justificando.cartacapital.com.br/2017/12/01/regulamentacao-do-lobby-porque-o-chile-deveria-inspirar-o-brasil/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Chile&#8217;s lobbying legislation</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, due to its flexibility and radical transparency. Chile was the first Latin American country to adopt a regulation on the matter, in 2014. Now, an online system logs meetings, donations or any kind of contact between elected officials and lobbyists. Requesting a meeting with a senator or a congressman goes through this online public platform, shedding light into how interest groups operate.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is not yet clear what model Brazil will follow, but Congress has given some hints as to how lobbying will work in the country.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Congressmen have had heated debates on whether or not lobbyists will be required to register their meetings with public officials, or if they&#8217;ll have to report to the Federal Accounts Court (an audit tribunal that monitors public spending) the expenditure of private organizations on lobbying. A period of &#8220;quarantine&#8221; is also under discussion; the original proposal required a one-year period before a former civil servant could work in lobbying. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But the present </span><a href="https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2018/03/camara-pode-votar-lei-que-regulamenta-o-lobby-nos-proximos-dias.shtml"><span style="font-weight: 400;">version</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> of the bill has all of these items removed.

Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.

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