Towards Accountability? Corruption and the September 2015 Political Reform in Brazil / by Mark Langevin

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By Clara Clemente Langevin* and Mark S. Langevin, Ph.D.**

This BrazilWorks Briefing Paper explores corruption and political reform in Brazil. The paper begins by recognizing the critical importance of the Petrobras kickback corruption scandal, known as the “Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash)” also known as the  “Petrolão,” and placing this corruption scheme within the historical context of corruption and incremental political reform under democracy. We provide a concise analysis of the incremental trajectory of political reform and detail the most important features of the September 2015 reform as responses to the Lava Jato scandal, including the important step taken by the Brazilian Supreme Court to find corporate campaign contributions unconstitutional. This analysis also explores the close interaction between popular mobilizations, congressional obstruction, and successive incremental reforms that have fallen short of deepening the accountability of elected officials. In this sense, the September reform package might be better understood as a tentative step towards deeper campaign finance and accountability reforms aimed at squeezing out “pay to play” or what Power and Taylor (2011) call “cash for policy” forms of corruption in Brazil. We note that successive Brazilian governments and congresses have failed to enact “whistleblower protection” laws that could encourage widespread and more efficient oversight of government procurement contracting.  We also agree with Power and Taylor that more can be done to render campaign finance more transparent and to impose stiffer penalties­ on those elected officials and citizens who corrupt the representational system.  Download this BrazilWorks Briefing here.