Campaign financing: who's getting the funds?

Campaign financing is a messy business anywhere. In Brazil, the rules of the game were becoming somewhat stable in 2012, when the Superior Electoral Court ruled to make donations more transparent during the campaign itself – instead of candidates having to present their accounts only after the election. It was a welcome change for everyone. That is, everyone except politicians, who quickly struck back to make campaign donations less transparent.

According to new rules, companies are forbidden to donate to campaigns – but individuals are allowed. The problem is that the rule change did not prevent big business from putting their money behind the candidates they support – it just made it harder to identify who is backing which candidate. Now we know the names of every donor – but, unless you know which boards these people are on (and most board members fly under the radar of public scrutiny), you don’t know which interests are behind donations.

The 2018 election marks the first with the so-called “electoral fund,” a BRL 1.76 billion pie financed by the taxpayer, and distributed among parties according to their number of seats in the lower house. However, of course, individuals’ donations keep pouring in.

How does that money get distributed, especially in the highly contested congressional races?

Following the money

First of all, until last week, 55 percent of all candidates for Congress hadn’t received any money whatsoever. Among newcomers and women, that rate went to 58 percent. Also, among less-affluent candidates, with no assets to disclose, 70 percent received zero cents for their campaigns.

campaign financing

In smaller parties with little to no ideological identification, most candidates get no money at all. In three parties (Free Fatherland Party, Brazilian Labour Renewal Party, and the Christian Labor Party), more than four out of every five candidates were not funded by their parties’ share of the electoral fund. Only the top dogs get donations.

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What’s interesting about this data is that two parties on opposite sides of the political spectrum have adopted similar behavior. In both the Trotskyist Workers’ Cause Party and Novo, an ultra-neoliberal party, nearly all candidates have received donations. They have the lowest rate of unfunded candidates – the only ones inferior to 24 percent, for that matter. However, similarities end there: while Novo candidates got, on average, BRL 31,000, each Workers’ Cause politician got BRL 583.

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Parties drawing more money

Of all donations made public until last Friday, six parties got 54 percent of the funds – five of them which are placed right of the center.

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President Michel Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement party (MDB) alone controls 12.1 percent of campaign funds. That is as much as the top 11 least funded parties combined, which is explained by the MDB’s massive presence in Congress. MDB candidates for Congress and state legislatures have gotten BRL 145 million until the date The Brazilian Report collected the data.

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Figures for the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), though, may be distorted. A newcomer candidate from Brazil’s cow country appears as having received BRL 12 million in donations – while the party’s de facto “owners” have gotten six times less. Typos happen. In 2016, Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes wrongly exposed as a nearly-illiterate candidate as a fraudster, after he typed extra zeroes in his donation disclosure documents by mistake.

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Known candidates are safer bets for parties and are more likely to have relationships with big donors. So, candidates who are trying to be re-elected often get the bulk of the resources. At MDB, nearly two-thirds of the funds in congressional races go for those who seek reelection.

Gender gaps in campaign financing

Overall, women get about one-third of the funds in state races, but only 20 percent of the money in congressional races. Women who fight for lower house seats must do so with four times less money on average than their male counterparts. For state legislatures, the men’s share is “only” twice as big.

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Among parties, only the Party of the Brazilian Women (PMB) dedicated most of its resources to female candidates, who received nearly two-thirds of the funds. Long-known as the women’s party which only male representatives, PMB concentrated 40 percent of the funds on only three female candidates: Janad Valcari, the head of the association of private schools in Tocantins, Cordelia Almeida, the wife of a mayor in Bahia, and Sued Haidar, the chairperson of the party.

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PowerSep 18, 2018

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BY Marcelo Soares

Marcelo Soares is a Brazilian journalist specializing in data journalism and reader engagement.