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Lobbyism: The Erosion of Democracy

by Lobby Control Monday, Jul. 15, 2013 at 7:12 PM

The developments of the last decades point in a dangerous direction. Democracy threatens to become an empty husk with formal demands for democratic decisions while the contents are defined by tiny elite circles (catchword “post-democracy”). A living democracy is vital.


Report of the non-governmental Lobby Control on developments in lobbyism under the German black-yellow government

by Lobby Control

[This summary of the Lobby Control report published on 6/25/2013 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]


Our Lobby report summarizes developments in lobbyism from 2009 to 2013. We analyze problems of the last years and the political debate on lobby regulation. We show Germany's back-log need in regulating lobbyism and what proposals were blocked. Our lobby study is a prelude. We will also evaluate the initiatives or blockades of the next German government in the area of lobbyism.


Lobbyism and lobby linkages in Germany are a great problem. The many affairs of the last years and the enormous number of non-transparent party donations, additional earnings and changes of sides demonstrate this.

Political decisions are increasingly influenced by personal and financial interconnections and financially-strong lobby groups. At the same time lobbyism reflects current social inequalities. Those with few resources and access are put at a disadvantage.

The regulation of lobbyism has not kept up with this development. This is true for disclosure obligations in party financing, additional earnings, limits to changing sides and an effective law on delegate corruption. Grave regulatory loopholes ensure linkages remain hidden or uncontrolled. The conditions on lobbyist registration are completely antiquated (ally lists). Despite the catch-up need in regulating lobbyism, the black-yellow coalition has ignored problems, blocked solutions and not presented its own initiatives. There were essentially no consequences for the incidents. There were not improvements in the current legislative period except for one of our themes – additional earnings.

The German government is also criticized internationally. Germany has largely ignored the counsel of the states against corruption (GRECO). GRECO has initiated the second stage of its proceedings.

A new German government must show it takes the problem of lobbyism seriously. Limits and controls of lobbyists are a presupposition for a living democracy. As a result, lobby regulation is an open future social challenge.


Lobby transparency: Who influences political processes with what sums and patrons often remains invisible – whether in hidden lobby campaigns or lobby attacks on concrete laws. In Germany, there are no effective conditions for lobby transparency. Nevertheless black-yellow has blocked all efforts to introduce a binding lobby register. Our evaluation: The traffic light is on red in the area lobby transparency.

Changing sides: In the last years there were many problematic changing of sides on all planes. For a long while, changing sides was hardly theme of political debates. Black-yellow distinguishes itself here through idleness. Our evaluation: The traffic light is on red in the area changing sides.

Party financing: In this legislative period, there were abundant needs and opportunities for reforming party financing in Germany where the disclosure obligations of the parties were avoided. The Europe Council criticized the praxis of German party financing. Nevertheless black-yellow blocked and did not take any further steps toward more transparency in political party donations and party sponsoring. Our evaluation: The traffic light is on red in the area party financing.

Additional earnings: After years of inaction, a reform of the additional earnings regulation was implemented. Black-yellow decided that additional earnings only need to be disclosed in stages. The new rules are far removed from a complete transparency. Our assessment: The traffic light is on red in the area additional earnings.

Delegate corruption: Among the G20 states, Germany and Japan are the only states that have not implemented the UN Convention against Corruption. Despite many protests, no clear rules against delegate bribery have been passed. Our assessment: The traffic light is on red in the area delegate corruption.


The lobbyism theme has continuously accompanied the German black-yellow coalition in the last four years. Even beyond these incidents, the influence of lobbyists in important questions is reason for criticism: in financial market regulation, the ene4rgy-turn, data protection and copyright questions. The affairs and lobby linkages led to public discussions on stronger regulation and limitation of lobbying.

In the German Bundestag there were also many controversial debates around the theme lobbyism – from the transparency of party financing and disclosure of additional earnings to introduction of a lobby register. However the black-yellow coalition mostly refused to acknowledge the problems. The reaction was always the same regarding concrete steps: black-yellow blocked. Only in additional delegate earnings did the coalition resolve improvement in disclosure obligations.

We take the end of this legislative period as occasion for a critical analysis. Our report takes stock on black-yellow policy in the area of lobby regulation. We examine the action fields lobby transparency, party financing, side-activities, changing sides of top politicians and delegate corruption. We investigate the following questions:

What is the problem?

What reforms are necessary?

Which affairs and snares in the last years illustrate the need for reform?

What political efforts were made to advance in these areas?

In individual chapters, we present ten theses on lobbyism. Given the ever stronger and more diverse lobby influences, the regulation of lobbyism is an important future task. In Germany there is a catch-up need in this question. Transparency and limits on lobbyism are essential foundations so our democracy is not further undermined.

This summary is a prelude. We will judge the next German governments on how far they succeed in regulating lobbying and producing transparency. For the last four years, our findings have been sobering and clear: black-yellow has neglected a constructive confrontation with the lobbyism problematic and prevented long-overdue reform.


Lobbyism. Increasing professional tightrope walking, the opening of the state for influence-peddlers and the Brussels paradise. Lobby Control study group presents ten theses on lobbyism.

By Lobby Control

[The following theses published 6/25/2013 are translated from the German on the Internet,]

In June 2013 the Lobby Control study group presented its “2013 Lobby Report” on the lobbyism debate in the last four years. The report included ten theses on lobbyism in Germany.

1.Lobbyism in Germany and the European Community occurs on the background of growing social inequalities and fortified power structures.

Unequal starting conditions are reinforced. Without political counteracting forces or institutional barrier, this unequal distribution of resources favors big powerful actors and endangers a democratic balancing of interests oriented in the public welfare. The pluralist ideal of a well-balanced and equal representation of interests where the best argument prevails nearly by itself is an illusion.

2.Lobbyism in its present form puts at a disadvantage those with fewer resources or access.

The growing lobby superiority of corporations and business associations threatens to marginalize ecological and social interests. Power structures within and between individual economic branches lead to decisions that are not well-balanced. As one example, the deregulation of the financial sector – as one of the causes of the most recent economic and financial crisis – was accelerated by the financial lobby. However the whole society has to bear the costs of the crisis.

3.Lobbyism has become more diverse, more particular and more professional.

With the government relocation to Berlin and the deepened European integration, the landscape of the lobby actors has expanded and diversified. The classical units lose significance. Instead many large corporations maintain their own lobby office in Berlin to exert a direct influence. Many specialized and highly professional lobby service providers sell their expertise to financially sound customers.

Besides lobby agencies, legal offices, consultants and think tanks financed non-transparently are involved in the political trade. At private universities, lobbyists learn the tools of the trade of modern lobby work... As a result, lobby work has become more expensive and more impenetrable which favors financially strong actors and makes difficult processes of political deliberation.

4.Lobbyism is more than the direct influencing of political decision-makers. Science, media and the broad public have long been the focus of lobby- and PR-campaigns.

Lobby strategies today include the targeted claims of relevant groups outside official politics: academics, journalists, citizens, children and youth. The long-term political discourse is influenced. For example, certain messages are launched (“social is what creates jobs”) or the image is polished up to escape political regulation (“green-washing”). Moods and trends on a concrete question of political decision-making are strengthened or weakened.

Journalists are harassed by interest-guided expertise and expert opinions. Like political decision-makers, they are invited to trips, events and costly events. Academics and universities are desired partners for lobbyists and often depend on additional financing. Lobbyists do not stop at the school but influence children with advertising messages – as for example in teaching materials or cooperative school agreements.

5.The state opens itself more and more to lobby influences.

Given the more diverse and tailored attempts at influencing, democratic institutions must observe distance and focus on their own capacities for considering different arguments and interests. We witness the opposite. The state and the parties bind private actors and lobbyists in decision-making processes.

The state undermines its responsibility for a fair and transparent balancing of interests when political decisions are outsourced to commissions and groups of experts or legal texts are written firstly by lawyers. These developments are an expression of the fundamental shift in power between the market and the state whose structural causes are a market-oriented globalization, liberalization and deregulation. Secondly, they correspond to an understanding of the state according to which politics is practiced as management and the state a moderating role more than a creative role. Those who profit from political outsourcing are the driving forces of this understanding of the state.

6.Increasing financial and personnel linkages endanger the independence of democratic institutions and the balanced nature of political decisions.

Changing sides of former members of government, lucrative side activities of representatives, external co-workers in ministries or the outsourcing of laws to private law offices can lead to conflicts of interest (“servants of two masters”) and create privileged access for individuals. Political decisions are then made with a side-glance at other employers, customers or financiers.

7.The increasing shift of many important decisions to Brussels leads to a structural advantage for strong lobby actors.

The development of European institutions makes difficult equal access. Firstly, the relatively small Brussels bureaucratic machinery leads to commissioners often falling back on proposals of external “experts.” To close gaps in technical competence, the commission hearkens back to 800 advisory groups. Many of them are not particularly well-balanced and offer lobby groups the possibility of affecting European laws early in the process.

There is no scholarly service in the EU Parliament as exists in the German Bundestag. The lack of a classical opposition with its control function, a weak European general public and a shortage of possibilities of democratic participation facilitate lobby work outside the purview of public control and criticism.

8.Non-transparency aggravates possibilities of democratic control.

Lobbyism in Germany is largely non-transparent. There are no legal obligations to disclosure to which lobbyists must submit. Weak transparency rules allow privileged access and influencing to avoid public scrutiny. Without transparency, the space for criticism and protest dwindles. Non-transparency creates advantages for those with an information edge through informal ways – like good contacts. Non-transparency makes possible dishonest methods like the establishment of camouflage (astro-turf) organizations or simulated citizen protests.

9.Citizens are far more critical toward lobbyists than toward their representatives.

The nearness between politicians and lobbyists is judged very negatively in the public amid financial interconnections, loose changing of sides and non-transparent decisions with the odor of one-sided influencing. Nevertheless the readiness for fundamental changes on the side of the parties is trifling. Being engaged with concrete steps for more democracy and transparency is uncomfortable and damages one's own power interests. Affairs become skirmishes of parties and are quickly forgotten after the end of media attention.

A confrontation with present-day lobbyism, its methods and underlying power shifts has not occurred. Through this failure, the framing political conditions for lobbyism in Germany lag far behind real developments. The increasing gap endangers democracy.

10.Democracy is in peril – Lobby Regulation is a Future Challenge.

The developments of the last decades point in a dangerous direction. Democracy threatens to become an empty husk or shell with formal demands for democratic decisions while the contents are defined by tiny elite circles (catchword “post-democracy”). Opposing a living democracy to the political apathy of many and the privileged creative power of a few is vital.

Comments – Nino Schneider 6/25/2013

Lobbyism leads democracy and all of us ad absurdum into dictatorship. This is now completely legal but in my opinion is not a harmless crime or peccadillo. I see its effect as corruption. Laws written directly by lobbyists are as perverse as banks and big shareholders advising politicians . In addition, I see politicians promoting their careers as lobbyists and academics providing accommodating expert opinions. A disinforming reporting about privileges is striking... All this must be monitored, made more transparent and regulated more strongly. To me, a German chancellor counseled by Goldman Sachs does not deserve any more trust than other parliamentarians with a similar dependence.

Nil – 6/25/2013

Good work! Thanks! When will the big parties begin to stop this development for the well-being of individuals, the public interest and our contemporaries?

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