Who are the unknown financiers of the MPs?

Some members of the Bundestag receive horrendous lawyers' or consulting fees in their part-time jobs: individual contractors pay them several hundred thousand euros – but which financially strong corporations or private individuals hide behind information such as “Client 30468” remains hidden because of a transparency gap. Proposals for stricter disclosure requirements exist, but implementation has been delayed for years.

When the affair with the CDU politician Philipp Amthor recently flared up, it became clear once again that there is something wrong with the transparency obligations for Parliamentarians. For Amthor’s stock options of the US company Augustus Intelligence as well as several luxury trips did not come to light because the young member of the Bundestag would have been obliged to disclose (as things stand at present), but only through the meticulous work of journalists.

The rules of conduct for members of the Bundestag are so lax that conflicts of interest or financial links between MPs and companies often remain invisible to the public. The scale is gigantic: with at least 11.2 million euros, according to joint research by abgeordnetenwatch.de and SPIEGEL, it is not clear from whom members of the Bundestag received money through their side activities during the current parliamentary term. This applies to 56 parliamentarians who work as a freelancer in addition to their Bundestag mandate, for example as a lawyer, farmer or business consultant. They do not have to publish the names of their business partners – even though individual contractors pay them considerable sums.

Ex-Minister applied for work for Deutsche Telekom AG

Who, for example, is the “Client 1”, from whom the former Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziére, has received at least 125,000 euros as a lawyer, according to information on his Bundestag page? It would not be too surprising if Deutsche Telekom AG was behind the claim. Shortly after leaving the post of Minister of the Interior in March 2018, de Maiziére reported to the Federal Government that he wanted to work as a lawyer for the telecommunications company. The government prohibited him from “advising Deutsche Telekom AG in the fields of national, European and international telecommunications relations” for a period of twelve months. This lockout period expired at the beginning of 2019. A few weeks later, in June 2019, “Mandant 1” first appeared on de Maiziere’s Bundestag page.

At the request of abgeordnetenwatch.de, the CDU deputy did not want to deny or confirm whether he is advising telekom. As a lawyer, he was obliged to maintain secrecy, the ex-minister announced through his Bundestag office.

At least 700,000 euros from “Client 30468”

The AfD MP and lawyer Enrico Komning also gives an enigmatic contractor, which is referred to on his Bundestag page as “Client 30468”. As the owner of a law firm, Komning has reported a fee of at least 700,000 euros for him since 2017.

Komning sits on the Bundestag Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy. If the high-paying client were to come from one of these areas, this would constitute a conflict of interest. It is difficult to imagine that an MEP can co-decide, completely impartially, on laws that directly or indirectly affect his business partners.

Business relationship terminated

According to research by abgeordnetenwatch.de, Komning’s law firm has in the past worked as a lawyer for the pay-TV provider Sky Deutschland and warned owners of restaurants. This is apparent, for example, from a judgment of the Landgericht Potsdam, in which komning Rechtsanwälte is named as the agent of Sky Deutschland Fernsehen GmbH & Co. KG in connection with a hearing on 11 October 2017. Since Komning also deals with digital and media issues in the Bundestag and spoke on the subject of “geoblocking” in a plenary debate in October 2018, an existing business relationship with Sky would not be without its problems.

Sky confirmed to abgeordnetenwatch.de that the firm Komning had acted as lawyers “to pursue claims of illegal broadcasting in the catering sector” for the company. Since October 2017, no payments have been made by Sky and the business relationship has been “finally settled” in 2019. “After becoming aware of the political activities associated with the firm, we immediately initiated the termination of the business relationship and from then on no mandates were awarded,” a Sky spokeswoman said.

When asked, Komning stated that he was not allowed to provide information about specific mandate relationships, “including their beginning and termination” – for professional reasons. However, his work as an MEP was neither in (political) contradiction nor in conflict of interest with the maintenance of the business of my firm". He himself only supervises about two to three individual mandates per year, “mostly due to personal acquaintance with the client”. The firm’s operation is essentially maintained by its employed lawyers and other employees.

“Schäuble could provide more transparency, but did not do so

The fact that lawyers such as Enrico Komning or Thomas de Maiziére, as well as farmers, management consultants and other self-employed workers, do not even see whether there is a conflict of interest from their ancillary activities is due to the inadequate transparency rules. Concrete proposals for transparency, such as the Left Group, have long been on the table.

In September 2018, the Legal Status Commission of the Bundestag recommended that parliamentarians should in future at least publish the branches of their business partners. Not much has happened since then – the matter is stuck in the Committee on the Rules of Procedure. It is true that, according to the code of conduct, the President of the Bundestag could also decide independently that “instead of the information on the client, an industry name must be indicated”. But Wolfgang Schäuble has so far made no use of this possibility.

But it is not only freelancers who remain invisible to the identity of their donors. In November 2018, for example, abgeordnetenwatch.de made it public that FDP Group Vice-President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff kept the origin of up to 36,000 euros secret that he had received for lectures. In response to the abgeordnetenwatch.de report, he disclosed his donors – including the private bank Metzler and the Swiss business association Efficiency Club. In fact, MPs have to publish the clients during lectures, but Lambsdorff used a perfectly legal loophole: a confidentiality clause was simply written into the contracts with his donors.

Insufficient transparency rules in criticism

For years, the lax disclosure rules have been criticized, not just from civil society. The Council of Europe also repeatedly called for stricter transparency requirements for members of the Bundestag. “Very little progress is being made by the Bundestag to advance the transparency of the parliamentary process, to regulate conflicts of interest more closely and to ensure effective control and enforcement of the rules of conduct for members of the Bundestag,” according to a report published 2019 by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), a sub-organization of the Council of Europe. The state of implementation in Germany was “generally unsatisfactory”.

Only a few weeks ago it became known that the CSU member of parliament Max Straubinger had violated the transparency obligations for years without any noticeable consequences for him. Since 2011, Straubinger had been late in reporting ancillary income, in some cases he exceeded the notification period by several years. The Bundestag Presidium let him go through this for a long time. It was not until April 2020 that it formally found numerous breaches of the Code of Conduct, which amounted to a public complaint. There were no direct consequences.

AfD MP advised international pharmaceutical company

Sometimes a Member’s contractor is not clear even if a specific company name is mentioned. Until this Thursday, afD member Heiko Hessenkemper’s Bundestag profile listed a consulting activity from 2019 for “Glexsus Smith Klein, Dresden”, for which Hessenkemper states a fee of between 7,000 and 15,000 euros. The problem: A company with this name does not exist.

In Dresden, however, the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which manufactures vaccines among other things and recently concluded a billion-dollar deal with the US government to develop a possible Covid19 vaccine, is represented in Dresden.

GlaxoSmithKline confirmed to abgeordnetenwatch.de that it had commissioned Hessenkemper as a scientific expert “through an external service provider with technical expert opinions”, for the first time in 2010 and again in 2019. At no time did there ever be a political exchange with him. “His current political statements do not fit our values and do not allow further cooperation.” The AfD MP writes on his website, among other things, of “a policy of plundering and re-population” and claims that a “perverse political-media class” would “work consistently to destroy our civilization”.

At abgeordnetenwatch.de’s request, Hessenkemper himself stated that GlaxoSmithKline had approached him about a packaging problem with glass, his former specialty. “I can’t explain how the spelling error occurred.”

After abgeordnetenwatch.de’s request, the entry on Hessenkemper’s Bundestag website was corrected, as the contracting party is now called “GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals NL of SmithKline Beecham Pharma GmbH & Co. KG”.

Some time ago, a misrepresentation of the company had caused confusion about an MP’s business partner. In 2013, abgeordnetenwatch.de and STERN made it public that the activity of the then Union Group vice-president Michael Fuchs for the controversial British consulting firm Hakluyt & Company, founded by MI6 agents, was not recognizable to the public for years: Fuchs' Bundestag page had long been an organisation with a similar name. How the error occurred was allegedly uncant at the time.