Earlier this year, Transparency International Germany and the German chemical industry association (Verband der Chemischen Industrie or VCI) entered into a joint project they claimed was to push for legislation that would bring transparency to lobbying in Germany.

VCI Director General Utz Tillmann and Transparency International Germany Chair Edda Muller

“Clear and fair rules are needed for lobbying,” said TI Germany Chair Edda Muller. “The new federal government and parliament should counteract the impression that just a small number of interests, together with those in government power, determine the fate of people in Germany.”

“We are speaking for new legislation that brings about a transparent interest representation – as we are convinced that transparency and plausibility are ensured only if clear-cut rules apply for all,” said VCI director-general Utz Tillmann.

But the coalition between a lead German public interest group and the powerful German chemical industry raised eyebrows of those in civil society wary of corporate takeovers of  public interest groups.

“Transparency International is allowing itself to be used by one of Europe’s largest corporate interests,” said Mark Worth, Executive Director of the European Center for Whistleblower Rights in Berlin. Worth worked at Transparency International headquarters in 2012 and 2013. “As it is, VCI spends millions of euros each year to lobby EU officials in order to shape public policy to their liking. All the while, they are subject to bare minimum public reporting requirements for their lobbying activities. Hardly anything is known about their activities in Brussels. How much looser do they want the rules to be? And why is Transparency International lobbying on their behalf?”

Last year, Transparency International – the parent organization – stripped Transparency International USA of its accreditation.

Transparency International USA had been seen in the United States as a corporate front group, funded by multinational corporations – the same multinationals that corrupt the U.S. political system.

Transparency International USA has since changed its name to the Coalition for Integrity.

VCI said they do not donate money to TI Germany, although a spokesperson could not say whether member companies have donated money to TI Germany this year.

Transparency International Germany refused to answer whether they are taking donations from chemical companies since the announcement of the coalition with VCI earlier this year.

“As an independent non-profit organization we do not take any project related funding from companies, also not in this case,” said Transparency Germany’s Anna-Maija Mertens. “Our coordinating office is financed from different sources, mainly membership fees, donations from private persons and administrative fines that are attributed to us by authorities. According to our approach to form coalitions between civil society, government and industry, we have 35 corporate members.”

Transparency International has itself been the recipient of large corporate donations, including a $3 million donation from Siemens.  

Siemens pled guilty in 2008 to bribery charges and paid more than $1.6 billion in penalties. Siemens was implicated in corruption in Greece, Norway, Iraq, Vietnam, Italy, Israel, Argentina, Venezuela, China and Russia.