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Economy

The lobby goes up to the Presidential Palace

Studies reveal the relationship between the Legislative and Executive branches and the interests pressure groups

It was of a prosaic cooling of heels in the 19th century that today’s ill-famed lobby was born: representatives of farmers from the state of Virginia, in the USA, had planted themselves in the lobbies of Congress, to influence the decisions of the politicians with the pressure of their talk. Over here, some caught sight of its still incipient presence in the processing of laws like the one that created Petrobras (“The petroleum is ours”) or the Statute of the Rural Worker.  But lobbying grew even in another age. “Its development occurred in the mid-1970s, when the country was under the military regime, which centralized the decision taking process on the Executive branch, weakening the Legislative ” tells Andréa Cristina de Jesus Oliveira, the author of the survey Lobby e representação de interesses [Lobby and representation of interests], carried out at Unicamp.

Far from a mere wait to apply pressure, the lobbying of the Brazilian Executive branch was based on the purchase of accesses and results, by means of corruption and the traffic of influence.  Nothing better could be expected of a dictatorship, and the practice was transformed into a popular jargon term for “shady business.” The odd thing is that the “evil” that had grown in the corridors of the Planalto palace ( Presidential Palace) had its apogee with the country’s democratization. “From 1985 onwards, there was the strengthening of the National Congress as a political power and, hence, of the pressure groups, which took their place in the democratic process again” she says. From that, a strange truth: “The lobbying activity, regardless of the format that it takes on, is essential in democratic societies, because the decision makers are confronted with a complex network of interests and the technical information that the lobbyists take to them is fundamental, for providing input for their analysis about the best path to follow. It is transformed into a social force for bringing closer civil society and the State” the researcher believes.

Andréa recognizes, though, that it is not easy to remove the stigma from the practice. “Corruption, illegitimate lobbying, has always existed and will continue to exist while there is not a serious debate involving society and government about the limits of the work of the lobbyists in Brazil” she warns. In the USA, for example, lobbying, an activity included in the exercise of freedoms provided for in the First Amendment, has been regulated since 1946. Here, in 1983, the then senator Marco Maciel present the bill 6132, still not voted, which provides for the registration of private individuals or corporate bodies that exercise any activity that influences the legislative process. “It is, though, no more than a translation of the American law of 1946. Our lobbying has peculiarities that it does not take into account” she explains. Amongst these, the concomitance of the focus of activity: the path of the traffic of influence or of information.

“The way of corruption is expensive and without guarantees. The pressure group is subject, every time the issue starts showing risks or opportunities again, to have to resume spurious relations, and more money will be spent. Furthermore, in Brazil, the Executive branch competes in power with the Legislative branch: 85% of the 5 thousand projects are proposed by it. Nothing guarantees that a conquest of today’s lobbying will not tumble to the ground with the arrival of a provisional measure from the government” she says; whereas, the researcher reckons, the choice for legitimate lobbying, which takes information to the political agent, creates a positive channel for communication with the government, and there are great chances for it seeing its pressure transformed into law, in a secure and lasting manner. “The majority of the lobbyists that I interviewed are favorable to the regulation of lobbying, and there are even initiatives, in the light of the lack of interest of the parliamentarians, to create self-regulation of the practice. For them, a debate on the reality of lobbying will put an end to the stigma and will clarify for public opinion its real significance” she considers. Those contrary to a legislation are just more pessimistic as to the results. “They argue that there is no way of guaranteeing the end of corruption and that law merely brings less liberty to legitimate work.”

Executive branch
The big question, then, is the lack of interest of the parliamentarians. “There is no political will for regulation, whether in the Executive branch or in the Legislative branch. After all, the parliamentarians themselves often fulfill the role of lobbyists when they intermediate the release of budgetary funds for states or municipalities or sectors which they defend or of which they are part” says Andréa. “In Congress, there are parliamentarians that are owners of health insurance plans, universities, agribusinesses, industries etc. The law on lobbying would remove the freedom of action that they have today” she explains.

It was the Constituent Assembly that brought the pressure groups back to the Legislative branch. “Many say that, at the time, there were more lobbyists than congressmen during the debates on the Constitution. There were 383 accredited pressure groups, amongst them the ´lipstick lobby’ a group that defended feminist causes and issues like maternity leave, abortion and child custody, amongst others, that were furthered in a decisive manner, with the help of this team” she recalls. According to the author, other projects were approved with the decisive participation of pressure groups, in the course of the 1980s, such as the increase in the social security contribution, the protection of the market in information technology, the statute of the microbusiness etc. The lobby is not always “for ill.”

Even though this theory works sometimes, it is not always perfect. Any interest group can get together and set up a strategy for lobbying in the Congress. However, an action like this implies sizeable investments, and not all have financial conditions and structure for the practice. This alone leads to an imbalance in the sphere of the representation of interests.  One good example is the disparity between the lobbying of the National Federation of Industry (CNI), which represents business interests, with vast resources, and the lobbying of the Inter-union Parliamentary Advisory Department (Diap), which depends on the monthly dues from its associates to maintain itself” observes Andréa. This difference, by the way, is the theme of another survey, Lobby da indústria no Congresso Nacional [Lobby of industry in the National Congress], by Wagner Pralon Mancuso, from USP, which relied on support from FAPESP.

According to data researched by the professor, the productive classes, since 1996, have made 233 proposals for alterations to the law reach the Chamber and Congress, of which 67.8% were accepted by the members of parliament. Amongst the laws and constitutional amendments approved, 85% of them met the desires of the major Brazilian industries. When one analyzes the structure of the victories, the business pressure group’s firepower can be perceived: 79.3% were on questions connected with infrastructure; 74% on labor legislation; 62.5% under the heading of financing; 61.4% of successes on regulating the economy; even on the tax question, in which they have less influence, they won 56.4% of the issues voted. And, personally, they make a good number: there are 100 members of parliament that present themselves as businessmen and, when joining up with another 150 politicians who align themselves with them, the business bench achieves quite a lobby: 250 parliamentarians, against 50 politicians from the trade union bench. “My thesis clashes with those who sustain that industry in Brazil has a position of political weakness and represent the businessmen from the sector as unfit for collective action, attributing this to the presence of the corporative system of representing interests” he reckons.

Success
Industry has not only been capable of identifying draft laws referring to “Brazil cost” and of defining and defending its point of view in relation to them, but has also achieved great success” he observes. The various historical and sociological  currents had for decades been denouncing the incapacity of the industrial sector for heading up a project of independent economic development for the country, as if they  lived split asunder by incompatible visions of the world and interests. From the 1990s, though, with the liberal inflection and the withdrawal of the State, Mancuso analyzes, the Brazilian business class took up the banner of the reduction of Brazil cost (a set of factors that impairs the competitiveness of Brazilian companies over the foreign ones: labor laws, lack of infrastructure and high taxes, amongst other factors) as a way of transforming itself into an efficient political player.

The arrival of imported products onto the market, with the new wave of liberalism, ended up causing this strange encounter of interests of the industrial sector, which started to seek competitiveness more emphatically, by means of lobbying with the Executive and Legislative branches. “Hence, even recognizing the structural limits of the Brazilian industrial bourgeoisie, my survey sustains that the producers carried out an intense, and often very successful, political activity, throughout all the stages of the process of industrialization, and, today, continue to act and to reap some important successes” notes the author. By means of a professionalized CNI (in the Constituent Assembly, it fared badly in its lobbying) for pressure, the industrialists started to carry out a constant work of identifying and monitoring legislative propositions that would have an impact on Brazil cost.

“It is important to understand that the clamor of the industrialists for reducing the Brazil cost was not motivated merely by the desire to face up to the foreign competitors. The interest in the domestic market also played its role. For the industrial businessmen, the conquest of new markets abroad cannot dispense with the beneficent outcome that the reduction of the Brazil cost would exert on the competitiveness of their companies.”

In its Legislative Agenda for 2000, the CNI assumes “the practice of an open and permanent lobby” whose priority target, Mancuso notes, is the Executive branch. In the proportion that business decisions determine, in great measure, the profile of the economy, there is, the author notes, “in the decisions of the State, special deference and attention to the needs of the business class. Just like the politicians, the population perceives that their own fate is tied up with the fate of the businessmen” he says. “The law on bankruptcies and the alteration to bill 232 (a bill that raised taxes) are two good examples that appear to suggest that the political success of the industrial business class is maintaining itself under the Lula government” Mancuso says.

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