With the second round of Brazil’s presidential election just nine days away and right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro holding a 17 point lead in the polls, accusations of campaign finance violations have been levelled at the frontrunner. Bolsonaro denied any wrongdoing but the allegations fly in the face of Bolsonaro’s projected image of clean hands in contrast to accusations of corruption and rule-breaking by leaders on the left.
Bolsonaro was forced to deny accusations by Haddad that he had asked business leaders at a dinner in Sao Paulo for funds to pay for bulk propaganda messaging on WhatsApp, a popular messaging site used by more than 68% of Brazilians, according to Statista. If true, the allegations would mean Bolsonaro had committed a major campaign finance violation. The leftist Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT) filed an official complaint with the election tribunal, asking it to investigate and injecting uncertainty into an election race that has appeared increasingly one-sided in recent weeks.
Bolsonaro has ridden a wave of anger over years of graft, recession and rising violence, accusing the PT, which governed Brazil for 13 of the last 15 years, of wrecking Brazilian society and sinking its economy.
The anti-establishment candidate has represented Rio de Janeiro as a federal congressman for nearly three decades and many of his supporters cite his career as being untainted by accusations of corruption. However, his top economic advisor, University of Chicago-educated Paulo Guedes, is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors over accusations of fraud tied to the pension funds of state-run companies, a fact that underlines the pervasiveness of criminal behavior in Brazil's political landscape.
The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported on October 18th that wealthy Bolsonaro supporters had paid for messaging by third-party agencies, with each spending up to 12 million reais ($3.26 million) to spread tens of thousands of attack ads among Brazilian citizens. The report energised Haddad, who said his party has witnesses saying Bolsonaro asked business leaders for cash to pay for the bulk messaging, which he described as undeclared campaign contributions. A representative for WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook Inc, said the report was being taken seriously.
Campaign propaganda has flooded social media in Brazil ahead of an October 28th run-off vote. The issue of fake news and abuse of social media has been a growing concern in elections across the world, and tech companies have come under growing pressure to limit misinformation.
It was unclear what effect, if any, the accusations would have on opinion polls. A Datafolha survey, before the campaign finance allegation was made public, showed Bolsonaro had 59% of voter support compared to 41% for Haddad, essentially unchanged from the 58% supporting Bolsonaro versus 42% for Haddad in the poll the week before.