Monitoring Corporate Money in Brazilian Elections

by Gustavo H. M. de Oliveira

Following the recent push for more transparency and civic engagement in the Brazilian government, and the increased concerns regarding corporate money in elections, we are developing a website to monitor corporate donations to political campaigns in Brazil and some possible effects of these donations. 

In its first phase, to be launched next month, the website will make use of two datasets: corporate donations to political campaigns and the amount of public money that these corporations receive through public contracts. The website will present the data in a user-friendly interface, allowing any citizen to visualize the magnitude of corporate money in Brazilian politics.

The recent years have been transformative in Brazil’s quest to remedy corruption. First, because after many years, the Supreme Court finally issued the first arrest warrants regarding the biggest corruption case in Brazilian history. Thirty-eight people, most of whom are from the high echelons of Lula’s presidency (2002-2010), were accused of having participated in a scheme to buy votes in Brazil’s Congress. The Supreme Court found 25 of them guilty. Many of them are already in jail. This is unprecedented in a country where people believe the rich are never punished for their crimes and where the Judiciary is seen as too inefficient and complacent with power to bring politicians to trial. The arrests bring about renewed hope in Brazilian political institutions.1

A second move in the effort to remedy corruption has been the fact that the federal, state and local governments in Brazil are increasingly emphasizing transparency and civic participation in their operations, to improve public service as well as to enable social control of government. Many initiatives – such as the federal Transparency Portal – collect many datasets that concern government operations. The recent Access to Information Law – the Brazilian FOIA –, signed two years ago, is another landmark initiative of this new era. Governments are also working with civil society to build websites and apps that improve the quality of the services offered to citizens. Two recent examples are the City of Rio de Janeiro’s recent hackathon and the Planning Ministry’s Open Data Contest.

Third, the use of private money in elections, through corporate donations to political campaigns, has been extensively discussed in the media and in the political sphere this year. In fact, the Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of corporate donations to elections – and a decision is expected to be announced in 2014.

Following this movement of increased hope in institutions and the use of open data to enable civic control and participation, we are currently developing the Open Politics website (“Política Aberta” in Portuguese), which combines data from different public agencies to enable the monitoring of the influence of private money in Brazilian politics. In its first phase, to be launched next month, the website makes use of two datasets: corporate donations to political campaigns; and the public contracts these corporations have received. As this is meant to be a civic app, it will be released as open source, so others can participate in the project or build upon it for future applications.2

Rather than providing an academic analysis of the data, the website is targeted to the general public, providing a user-friendly interface whereby any citizen can quickly visualize and understand the information. The website will also have some blog posts focusing on specific analyses, so that people can easily access some of the highlights of the data. In the recent push for better institutions and more transparency in Brazil, we hope this website will help Brazilian citizens understand – and perhaps work for the change of – the undue influence of private money in Brazilian politics.

 

1 The Economist. Jailed at Last. November 23rd, 2013. Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21590560-landmark-justice-jailed-last

2 You can find me on GitHub at https://github.com/gustavohmo