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ONE of the most popular laws passed by some city vereadores, members of the legislative arm of Brazil’s municipal governments, has been to make any bank queue lasting longer than 15 minutes illegal. No matter that their authority is meant to be limited to duller things, like the mayor’s budget or zoning laws. The vereadores, who along with mayors are up for election in more than 5,000 cities on October 5th, reject such constitutional leg-irons. Competition for the office is fierce—strangely so, perhaps, given that this is the lowliest political post in the land—and can be very expensive.

Transparência, an NGO, has examined the last set of races in three state capitals (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte), which took place in 2004. Of 55 vereadores elected in São Paulo, 40 declared that they had spent more than 100,000 reais (then $35,000) on their races. One candidate spent over five times that amount. In Rio de Janeiro, some campaigns were even more expensive in terms of votes gathered per real spent. Certain successful candidates in the city spent more than $15 for each vote they won. (In comparison, George Bush spent $5.60 per vote he garnered in the American presidential election that year, and John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, $5.20 for each of his.) If undeclared spending were added, the sums would be even greater.

Why is it worth spending such sums just to become a member of a municipal council? In the big cities, the mayor controls a substantial budget. In smaller ones, money from the federal government, funnelled through the municipality, is often the mainstay of the local economy.

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