A still undetermined number of supporters, activists, and sympathizers of two Brazilian left-wing political parties, the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL, Partido Socialismo e Liberdade) and the Unified Socialist Workers’ Party (PSTU, Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado), are being charged by the State Prosecutor's offices (Ministérios Públicos) of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo for having made small donations to these two parties during the 2014 elections.
One of the activists linked with PSOL, Lucas Mourão, being charged by the Electoral State Prosecutor's office (Ministério Público Eleitoral) of Rio de Janeiro, explained his case on his Facebook page on October 15. He says in 2014 he donated R$60 (about US$15) to the campaigns of Jean Willys and Tarcísio Mota, two PSOL candidates running for, respectively, Federal Deputy and Governor of Rio de Janeiro.
Fiz campanha de maneira voluntária, com o tempo que tinha, sempre com um punhado de panfletos e adesivos na bolsa e no peito e, obviamente, sem receber nenhum real. Doei 40 reais para a campanha do Jean e 20 reais para a campanha do Tarcísio. Era o que eu podia dispor naquele momento.
Agora é que vem a parte bizarra da história: o Ministério Público Eleitoral está me processando (e a muitos outros!) por ter doado esses benditos 60 reais! Isso porque a lei eleitoral só permite doações de pessoas físicas até o limite de 10% dos rendimentos no ano anterior à doação…
Fazendo as contas, o MP chegou à genial conclusão de que eu, no ano anterior à doação (2013), tive rendimento bruto menor a 50 reais por mês!
Os caras, grandes pensadores juristas brasileiros, chegaram a essa conclusão porque, ao quebrarem meu sigilo fiscal (!) perceberam que eu era isento do Imposto de Renda, logo, concluíram que eu não havia tido rendimento NENHUM em 2013 e, portanto, não poderia doar nada pra nenhuma campanha eleitoral…
I aided the campaign as a volunteer, in my free time, always with a handful of pamphlets in my bag and stickers on my chest, and, obviously, without receiving a single penny.
I donated 40 reais (10 US dollars) to the campaign for Jean and 20 reais (5 US dollars) to the campaign for Tarcísio. That was what I could spare at the time.
Now this is where the story gets strange: the Electoral State Prosecutors office is charging me (and many others!) for having donated those petty 60 reais (15 US dollars)! That's because electoral law only allows for donations from individual persons up to a limit of 10% their income of the previous year…
When it was all tallied up, the State Prosecutors’ office arrived at the brilliant conclusion that I, in the year prior to the donation (2013), earned a gross income of less than 50 reais (13 US dollars) per month!
These guys, these great thinking Brazilian lawyers, came to this conclusion because, upon cracking open my confidential tax report (!) they saw that I was exempt from income tax, then, they concluded that I had earned ZERO income in 2013 and, therefore, I could not donate anything to any electoral campaign…
In Brazil, people with an annual income under R$22,499.13 (about US$5,790) are exempt from paying income tax. Electoral law allows campaign donations up to 10% of an individual person's income from the year prior to an election, but, being exempt from paying income tax, the State Prosecutors office deemed the activists to have no income. As such, the state claims they could be committing an electoral crime by making donations.
Lucas Mourão, who is also an attorney, explained that exempt individuals may donate up to 10% of the value of the exemption limit, therefore, there is no illegal wrongdoing.
Mourão says that already nearly 100 such cases have been counted in Rio de Janeiro alone. In fact, in the comments on his post thread, multiple people reported how they are being prosecuted by the state for the same reason.
One of these is Sabrina (who asked not to disclose her last name), who donated R$15 (just under US$4) to the campaign of Marcelo Freixo, a PSOL candidate for the Federal Deputy position in Rio de Janeiro in 2014. According to Sabrina, her case has already been ruled in her favor:
Eu doei 15 reais e também fui representada! (…) No meu caso, o MP pediu o indeferimento da representação e o juiz julgou no mesmo sentido, numa sentença que tinha pouco mais de 2 parágrafos… E agora tô fazendo a defesa de um cara que também foi representado por doar 50 reais. Muito surreal movimentar a máquina do judiciário desse jeito por causa dessas doações!
Todas as doações de pessoas físicas isentas de IR ao PSOL estão sendo investigadas, ao que tudo indica.
I donated 15 reais (4 US dollars) and was also prosecuted! (…) In my case, the State Prosecutors office requested to dismiss the case and the judge ruled in agreement, in a judgment that was shorter than 2 paragraphs… And now I'm advocating the defense of a guy that was also charged for having donated 50 reais (13 US dollars). It's so surreal to use the judicial machine like this just because of these donations!
All donations to PSOL from individual persons exempt from income tax are being investigated, by all indications.
Antônio Bastos noted that cases seem to be coming “in order from top to bottom,” which would point to a persecution of left-wing parties and their supporters.
Em alguns processos existe até uma cópia do comunicado da chefia do MPE RJ para os promotores eleitorais pedindo “empenho” no ajuizamento das Representações. […] Ou seja, é uma diretriz que veio de cima para “processar geral” enquadrado naqueles quesitos, e talvez alguns promotores fizeram questão de juntar aos processos para demonstrar…
In some cases there is even a copy of the announcement sent to electoral prosecutors from the head of the Rio de Janeiro Electoral State Prosecutors office, asking for “commitment” in pressing charges. […] I mean, it's a directive from above for “general prosecution” framed in these terms, and maybe some prosecutors made a point to gather cases to prove it…
For Sabrina, this is a “clear violation of the democratic principle”:
[Ao] presumir que o isento nada pode doar proíbe o cidadão isento de IR de contribuir com o partido com que guarda maior afinidade (e, portanto, mitiga sua cidadania) e, por consequência, tira os partidos de menor porte da disputa eleitoral.
[To] presume that an exempt individual cannot donate anything at all prohibits income tax exempt citizens from being able to contribute to whichever political party they hold in highest affinity (and, thereby, disenfranchises their citizenship) and, consequently, tosses the smaller-sized political parties out of the electoral race.
The activist Matheus Lara said he had been acquitted, but he did not agree to the invasion of privacy:
Eu fui processado tb. Eu era isento, mas tinha como comprovar renda. Fui absolvido. Mas meu sigilo fiscal E bancário foram quebrados.
I was also prosecuted. I was exempt, but I had a way to show my income. I was acquitted. But my tax AND banking confidentiality were broken open.
The activist Cristiane Talhiaferro is also being prosecuted:
O meu processo ainda tá rolando tb, o juiz pediu provas e tive que enviar meu extrato bancário do ano de 2013. Quebra de sigilo bancário pra alguém que doa 50 reais tudo bem né, mas pra quem desvia milhões não pode…
My case is still in proceedings too. The judge requested evidence and I had to send in my year of banks statements from 2013. They can breach into confidential banking records for someone who donates 50 reais (13 US dollars) and that's okay, but for someone who embezzles millions they can't…
On Twitter, the activist Pablo Mattoso remarked:
— Pablo Mattoso (@pablomattoso) 14 outubro 2015
— Pablo Mattoso (@pablomattoso) October 14 2015
Activists with PSTU also reported they are being prosecuted: one such activist was Clara Saraiva, who gave a radio interview to Band News on October 15. She had donated 30 reais to the campaign of Zé Maria, who was a PSTU presidential candidate in 2014. She posted the interview audio on Soundcloud, venting:
Convenhamos que se o Ministério Público estivesse realmente interessado em pegar laranjas ou falcatruas, que estipulasse um mínimo de doação… 100 mil reais, sei lá… Mas não! Quem doou seus suados 30, 50, 100 reais numa campanha independente, que como a do Zé Maria é financiada apenas por doações de trabalhadores e estudantes, agora é constrangido pela justiça. Um escândalo!
Let's face it, if the State Prosecutors were really interested in catching the stooges or cheaters, then let them stipulate a minimum donation… 100,000 reais (US$25,000), or something like that… But no! Whoever donated their hard-earned 30, 50, 100 reais (8, 13, 25 US dollars) to an independent campaign, like the one for Zé Maria that is financed solely through donations from workers and students, is now constrained by the justice system. It's a scandal!
Donations from big business
The PSOL, the PSTU and other small left-wing parties are the only political parties in Brazil that refuse to receive campaign donations from companies. They rely solely on donations from individual people, generally activists and sympathizers of the same causes they advocate.
According to a report published last year by the NGO Transparência Brasil, the three largest political parties in Brazil (the Workers’ Party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party) received, all together, more than R$350 million (US$90 million) in donations from large companies, such as banks and contractors. The Brazilian Social Democracy Party, that lost the run-off presidential election to the Workers’ Party, leads the ranking with more than R$162 million (nearly US$42 million) in funds received.
At the beginning of 2015, a campaign led by leftist activists to prohibit electoral campaign donations from businesses backfired: Congress ended up passing the Political Reform Law that would legislate, precisely, corporate financing (this item in the law was subsequently vetoed by President Dilma Rousseff).
Journalist Gabriel Brito (@gabrimafaldino) linked the cases to the persecution suffered by activists who participated in the demonstrations that shook Brazil in 2013.
Electoral State Prosecutor's office wants to convict a person who donated R$60 (US$15) to a PSOL campaign. This is the official short answer to June of 2013… https://t.co/EoIyuzQSX8
— gabriel brito (@gabrimafaldino) October 14 2015
In the same week, the Rio de Janeiro State Prosecutor's office sought the conviction of 18 activists for “conspiracy and corruption of minors.” Among them are teacher Camila Jourdan, activist Eliza Quadros, known as Sininho, and activist Igor Mendes. The 23 activists, as they came to be known, have been under investigation by the State Prosecutor's office (Ministério Público) since they participated in the protests in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. They are considered political prisoners by various Latin American human rights organizations.