Interest Group Politics

Interest Group Politics

Brazil has very intense and diversified interest groups. Before 1964 the most visible were labor unions, student organizations, and business groups, which exercised their pressures more on Congress than on the executive branch. During the military period, especially from 1969 to 1974, interest groups continued to operate but almost exclusively vis-à-vis the executive branch. In 1983, when it became apparent that a political transition would take place, Congress again became the focal point of interest groups. The most explicit example of this trend was the ANC (National Constituent Assembly), when literally thousands of lobbyists--one researcher catalogued 121 noninstitutional groups--descended on Brasília.

Interest Groups

Government institutions lobby the executive and legislative branches through their legislative liaisons and employee associations. The president's office maintains a Subsecretariat for Congressional Relations. State enterprise employee associations, such as those of the Brazilian Petroleum Corporation (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.--Petrobrás) and the Brazilian Electric Power Company, Inc. (Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A.--Eletrobrás), have very active lobbying organizations, as do federal employees. All states and many large cities maintain permanent representation offices in Brasília. Although strictly prohibited, military officers exerted heavy pressure on the government for better salaries in 1992-94 through protest marches by military families.

In 1983 the Interunion Parliamentary Advisory Department (Departamento Intersindical de Assessorial Parlamentar--DIAP) was founded to coordinate and unify the lobbying efforts of the labor movement. The DIAP represented 517 unions, nine confederations, and one central federation in 1992. The DIAP soon proved highly efficient in monitoring legislative activities, publishing profiles of the performance of congressional members, and identifying friends and enemies of workers. In the 1991-94 period, the party leadership's manipulations attempted to thwart DIAP monitoring by floor voting, and very few roll-call votes were taken during that session.

Since the 1930s, business groups have been organized into umbrella federations at the state level and confederations at the national level, such as the São Paulo State Federation of Industries (Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo--FIESP) and the National Confederation of Industry (Confederação Nacional das Indústrias--CNI). Other businesses are organized as national associations by sector: the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Companies (Associação Brasileira das Empresas de Rádio e Televisão--ABERT), the Brazilian Electro-Electronic Industry Association (Associação Brasileira da Indústria Eletro-Eletrônica--ABINEE), and the Brazilian Aluminum Association (Associação Brasileira de Alumínio--ABAL). Business groups mounted a very efficient lobbying operation in support of the Big Center during the ANC.

Professional groups, such as associations of medical doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and engineers, are usually more active regarding the regulation of their professions, but occasionally attempt to influence more generalized economic and social legislation. Since the 1970s, there has been a steady growth of urban social movements and groups concerned with issues such as the prevention and treatment of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), racial prejudice, consumer rights, ecology, the homeless, Indians, mortgages, street children, and tenants. As a result, there has been a parallel growth of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Some NGOs are considered aggregative, such as the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis (Instituto Brasileiro de Análise Social e Econômica--IBASE) in Rio de Janeiro, or the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (Instituto de Estudos Sócio-Econômicos--Inesc) in Brasília. Some are more issue-focused, such as the Center for Indian Rights (Núcleo de Direitos Indígenos--NDI) in Brasília, or SOS Atlantic Forest (SOS Mata Atlântica) in Rio de Janeiro.

Religious groups are also important. The Roman Catholic Church acts officially through the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil--CNBB). However, it has an unofficial far right wing in the Brazilian Association of Tradition, Family, and Property (Sociedade Brasileira de Defesa da Tradição, Família e Propriedade--TFP), and an unofficial left wing of liberation theology linked to the Ecclesiastical Base Communities (Comunidades Eclesiais de Base--CEBs) (see Glossary). The center and left had always elected the president and general secretary of the CNBB since its inception. However, in May 1995 conservative Prime Bishop-Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves was elected president of the CNBB, a consequence of Pope John Paul II's consistent appointment of conservative bishops in Brazil. The Protestants have their Order of Evangelical Ministers (Ordem dos Ministros Evangélicos--OME) and Political Action Evangelical Group (Grupo Evangélico de Ação Política--GEAP).

The Lobbying Process

Three basic styles of lobbying are found in Brasília: the interest group sends its own representatives to Brasília, when the legislative agenda warrants; the interest group has its own representatives permanently installed in Brasília; or the group contracts with lobbyists in Brasília to represent its interests. Professional lobbyists systematically monitor the activities of Congress and the executive branch regarding legislative agendas and procedures. Visits by groups and individual interests to strategic members of Congress are organized frequently. In some cases, the deputies' geographical vote profiles for the last election within their state are analyzed for the client. When the interest group has a large membership, bus caravans to Brasília are organized to pressure Congress or the executive branch.

As in many legislatures, the Brazilian Congress also has inside lobbyists; that is, Chamber of Deputies or Senate staff, and some members themselves (the so-called single-issue deputy or senator). Because staff are very important to the legislative process, they are cultivated assiduously by lobbyists, and many become sensitive to (or eventually agents for) certain interest groups. In response to these pressures, the Chamber of Deputies Research Staff Association began preparing a Code of Ethics in 1993.

Campaign contributions are local and are an integral part of the lobbying process. The Ministry of Finance issues electoral bonus receipts for campaign contributions. Many contributing businesses, however, have used these receipts to evade taxes by providing documentation for their bogus records, known as their caixa dois (second set of books). Several bills have been introduced to address this problem, but no legislation had been passed by early 1997. The Chamber of Deputies allows groups to receive lobbying credentials. In the 1991-92 session, thirty-nine groups (twenty-eight business groups) received credentials, in addition to all ministries and sixteen other public-sector agencies. The Senate does not offer credentials.

The Media

Print and electronic media play a very important role in Brazilian politics. Until the 1988 constitution, the president had the exclusive prerogative to allocate radio and television concessions. From 1985 through 1988, television and radio concessions became the "currency of political negotiation" as President Sarney tried to maintain majorities in Congress. Although "social control" over concessions and renewals is called for in the new constitution, no such action had been taken until Cardoso's new minister of communications, Sérgio Motta, served notice in 1995 that all pending concessions would be canceled and a National Social Control Commission would be established that would use different criteria.

Shortly after radio arrived in Brazil in the 1930s, President Vargas initiated weekday transmissions of the Voice of Brazil, as propaganda on government operations. The news show, which emphasizes activities in and around government and political circles, carries thirty minutes of news from the executive branch and thirty minutes from Congress and the judiciary.

Media owners have very definite political agendas and pursue them assiduously. Francisco de Assis Chateaubriand Bandeira de Melo built the first media empire in Brazil. He founded the Diários Associados newspaper chain in the 1930s, and in the 1950s established a media empire that included thirty-three newspapers, eighteen magazines, the Tupi Network (with twenty-five radio and eighteen television stations), and two news agencies. Chateaubriand exercised tremendous coercive power over businessmen, presidents, governors, and Congress. As a result of losing a political and judicial battle against the rise of the TV Globo Network, Tupi deteriorated after Chateaubriand's death in 1968. The military government finally confiscated and reallocated its concessions in 1981. The newspaper chain still exists but with less central coordination.

The second media empire and the most powerful one in 1997, Globo Organizations (Organizações Globo), began with the Rio newspaper O Globo , founded by Irineu Marinho in the 1920s. In 1931 the oldest son, Roberto Marinho, assumed control of the newspaper and still commanded the empire in 1997 at age eighty-five. Globo began radio transmissions in 1944, and TV Globo began in Rio de Janeiro in 1965, the latter under a controversial technical assistance agreement with the Time-Life Group that generated a CPI.

With the establishment of a microwave and later satellite national hookup by the Brazilian Telecommunications Company (Empresa Brasileira de Telecomunicações--Embratel) in 1970, the Globo network steadily advanced to cover all states. The network accounts for approximately 70 percent of television audience ratings and advertising billings in Brazil.

In 1993, 333 daily newspapers had a total circulation of about 2.5 million. Magazines sold 222 million copies in 1993 (1.47 per inhabitant), down 32 percent from 1991. Although per capita newspaper circulation and readership is very low in Brazil, research has shown that print media have considerable influence on politics because of very competent investigative reporting and exposés, influence among "opinion leaders," and influence on other media. Of the five national newspapers--O Estado de São Paulo , Folha de São Paulo , Gazeta Mercantil , O Globo , and Jornal do Brasil --members of Congress regarded Gazeta Mercantil as the least biased paper, according to a May 1995 survey.

Radio and especially television exert a tremendous direct influence over the voting behavior of the vast majority of Brazilians. When the TSE (Superior Electoral Court) completed a massive computerized voter registration before the 1986 elections, it classified 70 percent of those registered as "illiterate or semi-illiterate." Brazilian television has an insidious influence on these nearly 60 million voters. Political subplots are cleverly woven into television soap operas (telenovelas ) and situation comedies to jaundice public opinion about certain political groups and types of politicians. Biased news coverage of political campaigns is commonplace.

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