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Court Ruling on Election Law Ends Corporate Contributions

Court Ruling on Election Law Ends Corporate Contributions

As long as there are elections, political candidates will need money to finance their campaigns. But if money equates to speech, the political discussion is heavily tilted toward large corporations. According to The Associated Press, more than 90 percent of funding to candidates in Brazil’s most recent presidential elections came from large corporations. A new ruling from Brazil’s Supreme Court aims to shift that balance away from corporations. The high court ruled that the portion of Brazilian election law permitting corporate contributions is unconstitutional, a ruling intended to stem the influence that some political observers say corporations wield over politicians.

At issue was the part of Brazil’s Elections Act that allowed corporate donations to both political parties and candidates. The 1995 election law allowed corporations to donate 2 percent of their gross revenue from the year directly prior to an election cycle, The AP explained. The challenge to the law was brought to the Supreme Court by the Brazilian Bar Association. In its 8-3 ruling, the high court explained that “it is for citizens to elect their government, not the companies,” The Wire reported.

Lawmakers responded to the high court’s ruling by passing a new measure that limits corporations to making just over $5 million in campaign contributions. Though the Chamber of Deputies passed the bill, the Senate voted to bar any type of corporate campaign funding, according to The Rio Times. Siding with the Senate and the Supreme Court, President Dilma Rousseff vetoed the Chamber of Deputies’ proposal.

“The possibility of donations and contributions by corporate entities to political parties and electoral campaigns would confront the political equality and republican and democratic principles, as decided by the Federal Supreme Court,” Rousseff wrote in justifying her veto.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the corporate campaign contributions, and President Rousseff’s veto of the campaign financing measure, come in the wake of political scandals, such as Operation Car Wash. That inquiry has since revealed that companies involved in the alleged corruption, such as Petrobras, had all made campaign contributions to political parties or candidates. The Rio Times points to records from the Federal Electoral Court showing that companies associated with the Car Wash corruption scandal had donated to the campaigns of both Rousseff and her opposition candidate in last year’s presidential campaign. Rousseff has not been implicated in the case, but she has still faced political challenges to her authority.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the election law goes a long way to curtailing corporate influence on the political process. From now on, the only contributions available to political parties and candidates will be from individuals. But there are still many politicians who want corporate contributions and many businesses that want to donate. Historically, when those who want money and those who have money share common interests, those parties find ways to work together regardless of the law. Time will tell if the Supreme Court’s ruling will be enough to stamp out the influence of money in Brazilian politics, or whether it will only push it further into the shadows.

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