German firms are systematically hiding donations to political parties. According to an investigation conducted by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, they donate the money in small sums to pass under the radar of the country’s lax party donations laws, a DW investigation has shown.
As a result, German political parties have received over €200m in donations over the last four years, but only €13m was immediately reported.
According to DW, insurance giants and major industry associations spread their donations to parties out over a year – whether it’s campaign season or not – or pass money through subsidiary companies, so that they can donate to their favourite parties. The chief beneficiary often turns out to be Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Annette Sawatzki of the transparency campaign group LobbyControl, said there was certainly something “systematic” about how companies evade the disclosure threshold and yet still manage to donate six-figure sums to single parties every year.
For instance, the major financial consultancy Deutsche Vermögensberatung Holding, which, along with its subsidiaries (Deutsche Vermögensberatung AG, UBG Unternehmensberatung & Betreuung GmbH and Allfinanz), donated €403,000 to the CDU in 2013. But the money did not have to be declared as a “major donation,” even though it amounted to over eight times the €50,000 threshold, because it was split up in smaller parcels and distributed via different subsidiaries.
According to Sawatzki, much of the suspicion surrounding German party donations could be avoided with more transparency. “You could say, ‘Okay, then we’ll make everything public from 10,000 euros, and as a citizen you can inform yourself.’ And the donors just have to stand by their donations. That’s what a democracy means.”