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How parties are fed

Last year, companies and lobbying groups paid considerable sums to parties without the public being aware of it. The money comes mainly from the rental of party conference booths, for which there are no publication obligations. CDU, FDP and CSU keep the payments of dozens of companies and associations under lock and key. Voluntary data from the SPD and the greens give an approximate idea of the scope. Who are the sponsors of the parties – and how much did they pay?

The fact that the names Volkswagen, Audi and Huawei do not appear in any party’s accounts is quite remarkable. These corporations alone are likely to have flushed far more than a hundred thousand euros into party coffers in recent years.

The money comes from sponsorship payments, which have become a lucrative source of income for parties. Especially with the rental of party conference stands, but also through advertisements in party newspapers, a lot of money can be earned. In 2019 alone, the SPD took over 70,000 euros in stand rents from the three companies mentioned; VW, Audi and Huawei have also been regular guests at other parties in the past.

Blatant Transparency Gap

How can it be that such payments do not appear in any official document? The reason is a glaring transparency gap in the party Law. While parties above a certain amount must disclose the names of their donors, there are no transparency obligations at all for sponsorship income. Specifically: the 25,000 euro donation of a group must be made public by a party; if a company transfers the same amount in order to advertise itself at a party congress and to get into conversation with politicians, the publication obligation ceases.

That we nevertheless learn the amount of the sponsorship money in the case of the SPD is due to a voluntary commitment of the party. Since 2017, the SPD has voluntarily disclosed” the names of sponsors and exhibitors “as well as the” net amount paid”. With this transparency measure, it reacted to the so-called #rentasozi affair, in which companies and lobby associations had paid for exclusive events with high-ranking SPD politicians.

15.000 Euro from Deutsche Bank, 26.000 euro from Volkswagen

From the recently published list of sponsors of the SPD it can be seen how much the party took from companies and associations last year. In addition to the aforementioned exhibitors Volkswagen (26,800 euros), Audi (23,450 euros) and Huawei (20,100 euros), the Overview also includes Deutsche Post-DHL Group and Deutsche Bank. They sponsored the event” Leadership Academy of social democracy " with 20,000 and 15,000 euros respectively. The bottom line was that last year the SPD received more than half a Million euros from sponsors and exhibitors.

The Greens also disclose their revenues in detail. Companies and associations of the party paid more than a quarter of a million euros to attend the federal delegates ' conference in November 2019. Exhibitors included the Central Association of the German construction industry (15,600 euros), Deutsche Bahn AG (11,700 euros) and the employers ' association Gesamtmetall (11,600 euros).

Voluntary commitments may be a good thing, but they don’t solve the Problem: other parties keep payments from dozens of companies and associations under wraps. In total, it is about several hundred thousand euros, which thus remain hidden.

FDP calls at least the total revenue, CDU and CSU not even the

At the FDP federal party congress in April 2019, for example, the poster with the “exhibitors and sponsors” showed nearly 50 Logos. Were represented, among others, the tobacco company Philip Morris, the German farmers ' Association and the pharmaceutical multi-Pfizer, as well as Volkswagen, Audi, and Huawei. Who paid how much, an FDP spokesman wanted to tell abgeordnetenwatch.de last summer not report, but at least so much: with the marketing of the last party congress, the FDP-own agency Pro Logo GmbH achieved a net total revenue of 282,280 euros. Of this, around 90,000 euros went into the party Treasury.

The libals sponsered by

CDU and CSU wanted on request of abgeordnetenwatch.de last year did not even quantify their total revenues. According to the sponsor wall, the CDU federal party congress in November 2019 included the lobbying associations of the real estate industry Haus & Grund and Zia as well as Microsoft, the German Cigarette Association and Deutsche Telekom. The second-to-last party congress of the CSU in January 2019 was sponsored by Lufthansa, the Bavarian Farmers ' Association and the Association of Bavarian business. AfD and Linke informed on request not to rent stands for money.

What makes Congress booths interesting for corporations

For companies and lobby associations, a party congress stand is worthwhile for several reasons. With the delegates, they can not only promote their own products, but also present their concerns to political decision-makers:inside. In addition, the stand rent can be deducted from the tax as an operating expense – in contrast to a party donation (these can only be claimed by private individuals for tax purposes).

In order to make the hidden payments from the economy visible, there would need to be a state transparency obligation for sponsorship income, as there is for party donations. There, the publication threshold currently stands at a level of more than 10,000 euros, which, however, has proven to be significantly too high: in several cases, donations were cut so that they remained just below the threshold.

It is not to be expected that the parties will soon have to provide mandatory transparency information about their sponsors and exhibitors. The CDU, the CSU and the FDP have rejected the Opposition’s corresponding advances in the past – even with rather peculiar arguments. On 1 December 2016, the CDU member of the Bundestag Philipp Murmann declared in the German Bundestag that new transparency rules are completely superfluous, after all, everyone can “also ask what the standing fee costs"at a party congress.