Taking an approach to the issue of corporate donations in election campaigns almost completely opposite that of the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v FEC, the Brazilian Supreme Court has banned corporate donations in elections.
Last week, the court ruled 8 to 3 that campaign donations from corporations were unconstitutional.
The Brazilian ban on corporate donations comes amid an extensive corruption scandal that has reached all the way to the Brazilian presidency, with citizens calling for President Dilma Rousseff to be impeached.
During the Brazilian elections last year, close to 76% of the total $760 million donated to the campaigns for congress and the presidency, came directly from corporate sources, according to The Guardian.
Taking virtually the opposite position of the Brazilian Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008, in the case of Citizens United v FEC, ruled to allow virtually unlimited giving to political campaigns by corporations in the United States
While in the U.S. corporations are technically limited in how much they may donate to a candidate or party, the use of 501 (c) 4 organizations, commonly referred to as a “super PAC” allow corporations to give limitlessly.
According to the Sunlight Foundation:
Traditional political action committees are bound by a $5,000 annual limit on the size of contributions they can accept from individuals and are prohibited from accepting contributions from corporations and labor unions.
A super PAC is freed from these restrictions under two conditions: The PAC must neither 1) give money directly to a candidate or other political committees that give directly to candidates, nor 2) coordinate how it spends its money with a federal candidate. As long as those two conditions are met, a super PAC may accept donations directly from corporate or union treasuries and in amounts that are limited only by the size of donors’ bank accounts.
Arguing that big money in politics had created a game that was rigged from the start, thus undermining the legitimacy of government as a whole, Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber said,
“The influence of economic power has ended up transforming the electoral process into a rigged political game, a despicable pantomime which makes the voter a puppet, simultaneously undermining citizenship, democracy and popular sovereignty.”
One potential loophole that could be exploited is a provision in the ruling, which allows for donations by individuals, of up to 10% of their annual income. One of the main concerns is that this allows for the potential exploitation of the rules by companies channeling their money through “bundles” of individual voters.
In America, super PACs currently operate as de facto campaigns, which although legally prohibited from coordinating with the legitimate campaign, often work in concert with the official campaign. Super PACs have already collected over $300 million in donations to be spent on the 2016 election cycle.
Although banning things, or creating legal prohibitions rarely result in the desired results, it seems common sense to keep corporations from bringing such undue influence to bear in a political arena that dictates nearly all aspects of the lives of individuals.