When does lobbying become unethical?

Lobbying in and of itself is not wrong; it is even indispensable for a democracy. Unreservedly everyone in a pluralistic system must have the right and the opportunity to present their concerns and arguments to politicians and to stand up for them. This also applies to interest groups and corporations. The basic idea from which the term "lobbyism" is derived is downright fascinating: In the run-up to their decisions, politicians collect all the facts and opinions, weigh them carefully and then decide - for the benefit of the general public.

So much for the theory. The practice, however, looks different, as the current case of rather shameless lobbyism shows: the chemical giant Monsanto secretly commissioned a study of its controversial weed killer glyphosate from renowned scientists in Gie├čen and paid for it. What a miracle it turned out that glyphosate is by no means the feared devil's stuff. The bad thing about it: The researchers withheld their clients and financiers and gave it all a university coat of paint. Whereupon - apparently scientifically proven - in the political arena was what was in truth interest-driven.

The case is instructive in several ways. It shows how purchasable parts of science have become in this country and that a self-cleaning process is urgently needed in this regard. Until now, the popular saying was that you shouldn't believe any statistics that you haven't falsified yourself, but this cynical bon mot could now be extended to many studies. To complain about the decline in academic decency is not enough, however.

The problem is deeper. Lobbying has become more than ever a question of money. It has been shown that those who can spend a lot on lobbying assert their interests more easily than those who have fewer resources. So influence depends on the wallet. The fact that lobbyism has changed structurally plays into the cards. It is no longer exhausted in business associations that send their people to ministers and members of parliament. This is even a comparatively transparent process because you know who is traveling with what goals.

More problematic are the well-camouflaged influences via lobby mercenaries that can be bought. They sit labeled as "consultants" in relevant agencies, or as seemingly neutral "experts" at colleges and universities, in institutes or so-called think tanks. As an underground worker for well-paying clients. And unlike association officials, they are barely identifiable by the general public.

It would be the task of politics to change that. A first step in this direction would be a lobby register in which lobbyists have to register. Namely, stating their clients, the specific goals they are fighting for and the budget available to them. It would be a second step if MPs and ministers would automatically have to disclose which lobbyists they are talking to and when. And it needs a legislative footprint: namely, the information about when which lobbyists and at which stage of a legislative process and where they presented their positions. There have already been attempts in these directions in Parliament, and they have all failed so far.

It is important to eliminate a democratic imbalance. Lobbyism in this country has become rampant and it must be steered into an appropriate track with clear rules. In politics and in science.