Dummy candidate scandal could lead to cabinet firings

. Feb 13, 2019
scandals bolsonaro government minister cabinet Gustavo Bebianno (left) could be the first cabinet member to be fired

A new wave of scandal has arrived at the doorstep of the Jair Bolsonaro government, potentially resulting in the first firing (or firings) of the fledgling cabinet.

On February 4, newspaper Folha de S. Paulo uncovered a scheme of dummy candidates implemented by Jair Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) in the state of Minas Gerais, reportedly sponsored by Minister of Tourism Marcelo Álvaro Antônio. The following week, the same paper published further allegations of corruption in the party, once again concerning phony candidates, this time in the state of Pernambuco, and involving cabinet minister Gustavo Bebianno.

The scheme in question involved the registration of a number of dummy candidates on behalf of the PSL, each receiving large sums of public campaign funding, paying considerable amounts to companies connected to advisors of cabinet ministers.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The first case involves Marcelo Álvaro Antônio, current Minister of Tourism and head of the PSL in Minas Gerais. In the 2018 election campaign, the party transferred BRL 279,000 to four women running for state representative, a total corresponding to exactly the minimum amount of funding required for female candidates. At least BRL 85,000 of these funds were paid to companies linked to Mr. Álvaro Antônio&#8217;s advisors, among them printing shops and communications firms. The four candidates were among the top 20 funded PSL candidates in the whole of Brazil.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The problem? The four candidates received little more than 2,000 votes between them, suggesting they were never genuine candidates in the first place.</span></p> <div id="attachment_14062" style="width: 1034px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-14062" class="size-large wp-image-14062" src="" alt="tourism minister brazil" width="1024" height="683" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1140w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><p id="caption-attachment-14062" class="wp-caption-text">Brazil&#8217;s Tourism Minister Marcelo Álvaro Antônio</p></div> <h2>False representation</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The fact that all four were female is significant, as besides the suspicions of embezzling money for personal enrichment, the party also reportedly used this scheme to skirt around </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil&#8217;s new campaign financing laws</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Political parties in Brazil are obliged to put up at least 30 percent of female candidates for each electoral race, an instance of affirmative action intended to promote the participation of women in politics. The problem is that parties would often call up a selection of women to run for office in order to meet the 30-percent quota, but they would be given no help in their campaigns. Clearly, by the volume of money assigned to the four, this was not the issue here.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For the 2018 election, corporations were no longer allowed to fund campaigns, meaning politicians could only receive donations from individuals and a slice of a publicly-funded electoral kitty, distributed in accordance with the party&#8217;s representation in Congress. What&#8217;s more, besides the 30-percent minimum of female candidates, parties now have to dedicate 30 percent of their campaign fund allowance to these women running for office.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The problem in Minas Gerais was that these female candidates, even with large amounts of funding, allegedly did not campaign and were used as fronts for embezzling money.</span></p> <h2>Maria de Lourdes Paixão</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Minas Gerais scandal rattled the administration, with rising demands from inside the government for Marcelo Álvaro Antônio to be sacked from his role as Minister of Tourism. The worst, however, was yet to come.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The following week, </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Folha de S. Paulo</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> revealed another PSL scheme of dummy candidates, this time in the state of Pernambuco, where most of the party leaders are based.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Maria de Lourdes Paixão, 68, a typist and secretary from the town of Gravata, was put up as a PSL candidate for federal representative. Despite having never held public office in her life, Ms. Lourdes Paixão was given BRL 400,000 in campaign funding from her party, making her the third highest funded politician in the PSL, receiving more resources than President Jair Bolsonaro, only losing to party founder Luciano Bivar, and PSL&#8217;s leader in the House, Delegado Waldir.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When election day came, Maria de Lourdes Paixão received a grand total of 274 votes in a state of 9.2 million people.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite being one of the most funded campaigns in the PSL, the BRL 400,000 was only transferred to the candidate four days before the election. BRL 380,000 was spent on printing campaign material, but the print shops listed on invoices submitted to the electoral courts do not exist.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Faced with the astonishing discrepancies of the fact reported, the Federal Police declared it had opened an investigation on Tuesday. Maria de Lourdes Paixão has been summoned to testify on Thursday.</span></p> <h2>The blame game</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Luciano Bivar, the founder and president of the PSL, born and bred in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state, is doing his best to deflect blame for the scheme. In a stunning interview to <em>Folha</em>, Mr. Bivar placed the blame on <a href="">cabinet</a> minister Gustavo Bebianno, who conveniently served as the president of PSL for less than a year, during the 2018 election campaign.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After the election of Jair Bolsonaro, Mr. Bebianno—who worked extensively on the <a href="">presidential campaign</a>—took the role of General Secretary of the president&#8217;s office, leaving the PSL&#8217;s chairman&#8217;s seat warm for Mr. Bivar who, for all intents and purposes, never really stood down in the first place.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the same interview in which he rats out his party colleague, Mr. Bivar also railed against the campaign financing law for female candidates, claiming that &#8220;politics isn&#8217;t for women,&#8221; before rambling about outdated theories of the inherent &#8220;vocation&#8221; of the sexes. &#8220;If you were to have an election for ballet dancers, and you established a 50 percent minimum for men, you&#8217;re going to miss out on some beautiful ballerinas.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Meanwhile, Gustavo Bebianno has tried to pass the burning paper bag of excrement back to Luciano Bivar, claiming he was the one who personally nominated Maria de Lourdes Paixão to be a candidate. In fact, during the infamous Folha interview, Mr. Bivar does appear to be aware of Ms. Paixão and the fact that she received the funds four days before the election.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">President Jair Bolsonaro, who was only <a href="">released from the hospital</a> today after recovering from surgery, has not spoken publicly about the case. Behind the scenes, however, Mr. Bolsonaro is placing the blame on Mr. Bebianno. Pressure to make his first cabinet firing, just over a month into the administration, is mounting fast. The president canceled all of Mr. Bebianno&#8217;s appointments for Tuesday and Wednesday, and news of his resignation could come at any time.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On Wednesday afternoon, Carlos Bolsonaro—son of the president—refuted claims made by Mr. Bebianno that he had spoken to Jair Bolsonaro &#8220;three times&#8221; on Tuesday, further exposing the depth of the crisis within the federal administration.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;"><em>This article was updated on February 13, 2019, at 15:16, to include the statement made by Carlos Bolsonaro</em>.

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