Experts from different countries exchanged experiences on the models used to fund election campaigns around the world during the International Conference on Campaign Financing and Democracy. The event is promoted by the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) and takes place in Brasilia on 11 and 12 June.
A panel discussion on the topic this Friday was attended by S.Y. Quraishi, former chairman of the Election Commission of India, Professor Piero Ignazi of the University of Bologna (Italy), and Magnus Ohman, a researcher from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. The debate was moderated by Brazil's Deputy Electoral Attorney-General, Eugênio Aragão, and also relied on contributions from German professor Bruno Speck (PhD of Political Science by the Unicamp), Federal Representative Henrique Fontana and TSE Justice Henrique Neves.
According to the Chief Justice of the TSE, Justice Dias Toffoli, this exchange of experiences is of undeniable importance, especially at a time when the Brazilian National Congress discusses political reform and, among its various themes, the financing of campaigns. Toffoli highlighted the booked launched on the first day of the event (the Portuguese edition of Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns: A Handbook), which gathers together information on the different experiences by 175 countries in this area, including details of their laws concerning the financing of campaigns and political parties and on how democracy funding systems work worldwide.
The book was organized by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA International), an intergovernmental organization with 20 years of existence and 28 Member States headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden.
In his presentation, Professor Bruno Speck defended the equity of participation between citizens and the government in the financing of campaigns. According to him, not all forms of public funding turn away or ignore citizens.
"We have interesting modalities that include and empower citizens. This complementary system strengthens citizens in their ability to influence the political campaign. It is an intelligent mechanism that transfers public resources via citizen interest," he said as he called for the exclusion of companies from the campaign financing process.
According to Speck, only by removing private company financing will it be possible to preserve the independence of elected representatives in the face of economic powers. He cited the example of Canada, where the state refunds (through income tax returns) the donations made by citizens to a particular politician. “The state bears the full cost of all donations, but each voter receives a 'bonus' through which to decide where the money will be allocated”. In other words, the citizen decides to which a candidate the State must submit a certain amount. According to the professor, the current system "is blind to the will of the citizen”.
Congressman Henrique Fontana (PT-RS) also argued that Brazil adopt a system that can tune the will of the citizens to the election's results. “There is a growing influence of economic power in the election results, and economic power does not make democratic choices; it makes pragmatic choices that fit its own interest, not the interest of the citizen," said the parliamentarian. He said he hoped the day comes when citizens can finally say “Yes, they represent me" when referring to elected candidates.
For researcher Magnus Ohman, each country is unique, but it does not mean that a country cannot learn from the experiences of others. Ohman made a historical overview of the beginning of the public funding model, which originated in Latin America, he said, with Uruguay developing a model later adopted by Germany.
More adept of a mixed campaign funding model, the expert said that public funding generally favors the ruling party, which has access to public resources.
Italian Piero Ignazi reminded that this relationship between money and politics is very old, and cited examples dating back to ancient Rome. Ignazi talked about the models adopted in Eastern Europe and also in Western Europe.
According to him, in Italy there has been an "absurd increase" in the amount of public funds in the campaigns, reaching 50% of the total. In his view, this creates the risk that political parties end up becoming agencies of the State.
India's S.Y. Quraishi spoke of the complexity of his country and how elections take place in a nation with more than 880 million voters. According to him, India is the most peculiar country in the world, with an unrivaled diversity of languages, religions and dialects. He cited problems such as militancy, terrorism and violence in the elections. He pointed out that all these issues have been resolved, however, and that the biggest problem affecting campaigns today is the financing issue.
Quraishi finished by noting that money's power in elections continues to defy solutions, but that there is consolation in the fact that the whole world is after a solution to this problem. In his view, meetings such as the International Congress on Campaign Financing and Democracy favor the debate in the quest for answers.
TSE Justice Henrique Neves, who also acted as rapporteur of the discussions, added that no country is alone in this matter. "Everyone has problems and solutions, and it is up to us to unite our minds to try to identify the best solution for each of the countries involved. However, one solution may be very good for one country and not have the same effect on others".
Finally, the Justice added that the debate is important, but these reforms "will only solve our problems momentarily; we will then have other problems, that will require other solutions". "The law evolves to meet historical times whenever such evolution is necessary," he commented.