Lobbycontrol on federal government: black-red sees red

The LobbyControl association draws a negative balance of the grand coalition. It is partly responsible for scandals such as Dieselgate.

LobbyControl accuses the grand coalition of failure Photo: dpa

Under the motto "Sit out instead of start", the non-profit association LobbyControl presented its lobby report on the grand coalition in Berlin on Wednesday. Conclusion: lobbying in Germany is largely non-transparent and poorly regulated. "Black-Red has failed in lobby control," said Imke Dierben, political director of LobbyControl.

She said the CDU/CSU blocked necessary reforms and the SPD did not care enough about lobby regulation. The plans agreed in the coalition agreement had been implemented, but without the necessary bite. LobbyControl calls for a mandatory lobby register, transparent, regulated party financing, new regulations on bribery of members of parliament and new statutory waiting periods.

According to LobbyControl, several thousand lobbyists work in Berlin every day. "On the part of the authorities and parties, there is a lack of awareness of the problem of dealing with the lobby," says Timo Lange, author of the report. Lobbying scandals such as "Rent-a-Sozi," "Dieselgate" and "Cum/Ex" have caused financial damage that runs into the billions, he says.

The general damage, however, was much higher: "Such scandals destroy the trust of the population in political institutions, our democracy is in crisis," said Dierben. These have also fostered the rise of the new right in Europe and the U.S., she said, and are a smokescreen for protest voters.

Imke Dierben

"Our democracy is in crisis"

There are six areas for action in the report, which LobbyControl rates according to a traffic light system: Green means there is no need for action in this area. Orange means there have been slight improvements, but further action is needed. And red: major need for action, as there are no regulations or the existing ones are poor. In the areas, LobbyControl awarded yellow three times and red three times, no field of action was rated green. "In the 2015 report, we had spoken of slow progress, this has now come to a standstill," said Dierben.

LobbyControl rates these areas as red

"There is a deafening standstill in the red lights," Lange says. There have been medium to large scandals, he says, but only reformation in small places.

TransparencyThe majority of the population and a calculated majority of members of the Bundestag are in favor of a lobby register. The SPD presented a bill to this effect, while the CDU/CSU blocked the proposal. In addition, there was a corresponding draft from the opposition, which was also rejected with votes from the SPD.Ireland, Canada, Austria and Belgium already have a register in which lobbyists must register.

The Bundestag introduced a list of associations in 1972, but only some of the lobbyists can register there. Registration is voluntary and does not entail any rights or obligations. Today, lobbying has changed, becoming more diverse and professional. LobbyControl sees the solution in a mandatory register: Here, every lobbyist would have to register and disclose his financial background. The register should also be monitored, with sanctions for violations.

LegislationMost draft legislation is drafted in ministries, and lobbyists have an influence on it. He said there was nothing wrong with ministries exchanging views with lobbyists, but that participation was unbalanced. Lobbyists are usually informed earlier and better than members of parliament, he said. In the "Cum/Ex" scandal, which caused the state to lose around ten billion, lobbyists wrote the laws themselves, he said. LobbyControl demands a "legislative footprint", i.e. transparency about who initiated the idea of the law and which persons were involved in the process with respective shares.

Party funding: So far, there is no private cap on donations. Only from 10,000 euros per year do parties have to publish the sum in their statement of accounts. Individual donations do not have to be made generally available until they exceed 50,000 euros. So anyone who stays just below the limit can circumvent this regulation. Nor do parties have to disclose individually the income from party sponsorship from trade associations and companies.

There is no transparency in the election campaign either: For example, the Association for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Civil Liberties financed several state election ads worth millions for the AfD. Timo Lange expects the same in the Bundestag election. LobbyControl wants a control committee here. Donations of 2,000 euros or more should be reported in the accountability reports, and donations of 10,000 euros or more should be reported directly with the name and the exact amount. The association also demands the same for party sponsoring and transparency in election campaigns. The sale of politicians’ talks should be prohibited and the maximum donation amount per donor, party and year should be limited to 50,000 euros.

Here LobbyControl awarded yellow

Page change: Former politicians are sought-after lobbyists, as they offer insider knowledge and exclusive access to institutions. The newly passed law states a waiting period of twelve months, in special cases 18 months. However, the waiting period is a case-by-case decision; it is made by a panel and published. There are no sanctions for violations LobbyControl sees the publication as positive.

Another problem, he says, is political officials, such as state secretaries, who often switch sides. Although they can be banned from switching sides by their authorities, the criteria and process for doing so are not transparent. LobbyControl is therefore calling for longer waiting periods, binding sanctions and, in the case of political officials, a public recommendation with an accessible catalog of criteria. This should also affect employees in ministries, who are not covered by any regulation so far.

Secondary employment: All additional incomes of members of parliament are now recorded in a ten-tier system. Six CDU/CSU politicians are in the tenth bracket for additional income of 250,000 euros or more. The proportion of additional earners is generally just under 27 percent in the CDU/CSU and around 16 percent in the SPD.

LobbyControl sees a ban on paid lobbying alongside a mandate as a solution. In addition, a bias rule should take effect that keeps members of parliament out of certain processes in the event of conflicts of interest. Every MP would have to disclose his or her assets and supplementary income in detail, and a supervisory body would keep an eye on it.

MP corruptionArticle 38 of the Basic Law, according to which members of parliament are subject only to their conscience, gives them a great deal of freedom. The SPD presented a new concept. Accordingly, anyone who "demands or accepts an unjustified advantage for himself or for a third party as consideration" for actions in connection with his mandate is liable to prosecution.

Problem: The facts are difficult to prove. "Towering thresholds of punishability and almost plan-like difficulties of proof," writes former federal judge Thomas Fischer in the report. Accordingly, LobbyControl would like to see a rewording so that corruption among members of parliament is easier to prove.

There is much to do

"The new government’s list of duties is well filled," Lange sums up. Not only LobbyControl but also many lobbyists find binding rules for all appealing. However, this is not to be expected under a black-yellow government, he says. "The ministries should not place themselves in front of companies like patrons, as Transport Minister Dobrindt did with the car industry," Lange demands.

Angela Merkel appointed Joachim Koschnicke as her federal election campaign manager at the beginning of April. Before that, he worked in the private sector, then moved to the CDU and then to Opel. According to LobbyControl, he was involved in the "Dieselgate" scandal.