TSE Chief Justice discusses fairness in elections during Latin American Conference

Iberoamerican Conference

The Chief Justice of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), Dias Toffoli, joined the discussions on "Electoral Justice and Fairness in Elections: Financing and Access to Media", held during the VII Ibero-American Conference on Electoral Justice, in Cusco, Peru. The event is organized by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA International) and the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones of Peru (the country's equivalent of the Electoral Justice System).

During his lecture, Toffoli talked about the main conclusions drawn from the publication "Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns: A Handbook", published by the IDEA. The Handbook was released in July during the International Conference on Campaign Financing and Democracy, held in Brasília by the Superior Electoral Court with the support of the Electoral Judicial School (EJE) and the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB).

As the Chief Justice explained, the Handbook covers a number of aspects related to the influence of money in politics from the perspective of great scholars and experts in the field, which, combined with an analysis of political financial regulations around the world, provide guidelines for improving electoral systems and point out the major global challenges faced by political financing.

Challenges mentioned include the high costs of campaigns (leading parties to seek several sources of funding, both licit and illicit), the lack of popular support for such funding and the massive transfers of money by companies, which often see such donations as an investment that will generate government favors in the future.

Unequal access to financing funds, the use of public resources for political purposes, the fact that parties and politicians are in control of the rules that will govern their own behavior and the lack of political will to create solid institutions to oversee party and candidate accounts are other factors mentioned in the handbook as challenges faced around the world for the improvement of democracy.

Campaign financing

The Chief Justice of the TSE stated his position as favorable to the end of campaign financing by private companies. The main reason, he said, is that democracy cannot be financed by actors who are not entitled to vote. In the absence prohibition, however, Toffoli informed that he has stressed to the Brazilian Congress the need to create a cap for donations by companies. “I suggested to the Brazilian Congress that criteria, objective limits and maximum values be established for donations. I believe this is a very sensitive topic for the strengthening of democracies in Latin America," he said.

According to him, "the high cost of campaigns is one of the main factors leading parties and candidates to seek funding sources that are compatible with increasingly higher costs”. He highlighted that corporate influence in election campaigns has greatly increased in Brazil. While in 2004 the percentage of donations by companies was of 38.8%, in 2014 the same rate had almost doubled, reaching 76.4%.

The Justice explained that in Brazil, private companies are allowed to make donations to political campaigns or parties until the limit of 2% of their gross revenue. This allowed, for example, a single company (JBS S/A) to donate US$ 145 million to different campaigns in 2014. Also according to Dias Toffoli, the resources from the government-sponsored Party Fund only financed 5% of total campaign costs last year, and only 23% of the remaining 95% came from private individuals.

Political reform

Justice Toffoli also told participants that Brazil is experiencing a period of intense debate on political reform, and that a bill has already passed the House of Representatives that would amend the Constitution to prohibit corporate donations to candidates, allowing only individuals to donate. Another point approved by the House is the so-called "barrier clause", which would only allow access to free TV and radio slots for campaign ads and party fund resources to parties that are able to elect at least one parliamentarian to the House and Senate.

The minister pointed out as an "aspect of great importance" the need to create a spending cap for political campaigns in Brazil. “The objective of establishing a spending cap is to give more balance to election campaigns, to the extent that high campaign costs lead to unbridled quests for financial resources that in turn can lead to various nefarious effects to the democratic process, including illegal funding, electoral corruption, abuse of state resources and improper links between business and politics," he said.

Brazilian electoral system

Finally, the TSE Chief Justice gave a detailed presentation on the organization and operation of the Brazilian Electoral Justice System, as well as on the currently allowed forms of campaign financing, explaining the provisions of the law that governs the matter. Issues related to control of party and electoral accounting were also addressed in detail by Toffoli. He explained the electoral law currently in force on the matter and spoke of the role played by The Electoral Justice System as overseer of such records as a means of curbing the abuse of political and economic power, corruption and other deviations in politics.

The Chief Justice also detailed the rules that must be followed by magazines, TV and radio stations, newspapers and news websites for the coverage of the elections. He pointed out that constitutional doctrine ensures freedom of expression, and that the Electoral Justice System "has already positioned itself to restrict only proven excesses, ensuring the defense of freedom of expression”.

Regarding regulations for the control of public media outlets, Justice Toffoli recorded that "Brazilian legislation provides mechanisms aimed at eliminating or reducing the use of the machinery of government at the expense of the balance of the elections, including regarding official or institutional advertising”.