Google, Dow and Deutsche Bank break into top-10 biggest corporate lobbying spenders

June 23rd, 2015
by olivier.hoedeman

But be warned: EU lobby register data remain unreliable

The EU´s lobby Transparency Register recently had a make-over, with a new interface and several other features resulting from revised EU lobby transparency rules. Also, all registrants had to re-submit updated information about their lobbying including their spending. This means Lobbyfacts.eu is now able to present new, updated rankings of biggest spenders in EU lobbying. In a series of blogposts we will show what the renewed EU Transparency register tells (or doesn't tell) about lobbying in Brussels.

We start with the top-10 of companies spending most on EU lobbying (mostly 2014 figures – and cleaned from small firms that by mistake reported far too high figures), which looks like this:

  1. ExxonMobil €4.5-5mn (previous year: €4.75-5mn)
  2. Shell €4.5-5mn (previous year: €4.25-4.5mn)
  3. Microsoft €4.5-4.75mn (previous year: €4.5-4.75mn)
  4. Deutsche Bank €3.962mn (previous year: €1.99mn)
  5. Dow Europe €3.75-4mn (previous year: €800,000-900,000)
  6. Google €3.75-4mn (previous year: €1.25mn-1.5mn)
  7. General Electric €3.5-3.75mn (previous year: €3.25-3.5mn)
  8. Siemens €3.23mn (previous year: €4.35 mn)
  9. Huawei €3mn (previous year: €3mn)
  10. BP €2.5-3mn (previous year: €1.25mn-1.5mn)

While Exxon, Microsoft and Shell were also in the top of the biggest spenders last October, Google (which almost tripled its declared lobby spending), Dow (quadrupled), Deutsche Bank (doubled) and BP (doubled) are new in the top-10, due to remarkable increases in lobby spending. Compared to last October, Philip Morris International (PMI), GDF SUEZ (now called Engie) and Bayer have fallen out of the top-10. The new figures from tobacco giant PMI indicate that it has reduced its spending by almost 75%. This may reflect that the EU Tobacco Product Directive was finalised in early 2014, after several years of intense and controversial tobacco industry lobbying.

Combined, the top-10 declares to have spent over 37 million euro on lobbying on an annual basis, compared to 39 million euro the previous year. A modest decline in overall lobby spending among companies was perhaps to be expected, considering that 2014 was a year with European Parliament elections and the transition to a new European Commission team, which meant the EU’s legislative process was dormant for many months.

All the above figures should be treated with great caution, as the EU’s Transparency Register relies on estimates of lobby spending provided by the registrants themselves, with insufficient oversight or quality control due to low staff numbers at the register secretariat. Increases in declared lobby spending may reflect real changes in level of lobbying activity, but may also show up because companies were previously under-reporting on their spending, preferring their lobbying to appear smaller than it really is. A report by the ALTER-EU coalition published last month showed that despite some improvements, the data in the register remain very unreliable, with many companies and lobby groups under-reporting their lobby spending, while others report grotesquely exaggerated figures, most often not by intent but by mistake.

This problem is confirmed by the new rankings available on Lobbyfacts.eu. To get a reliable top-10 of companies spending most on EU lobbying we have – just as in last October’s ranking – had to ‘clean up’ the ranking. We removed no less than 15 companies from the raw top-25 ranking: companies that are in fact not among the biggest spenders but which must have made mistakes in their registrations. This includes companies like European Gas Limited (which produces coal and natural gas in France and several other countries) and Hellenic Petroleum Group of Companies. Both companies certainly do lobbying in Brussels, but almost surely do not really spend more than 10 million euro per year on lobbying, which would be twice as much as corporate giants like ExxonMobil and Shell. The two companies have no accredited lobbyists with access to the European Parliament. The European Gas Limited appears to have had only one meeting with a top Commission official in the last six months, Hellenic Petroleum Group none at all. Source.

Other companies that seem to have mistakenly reported over 10 million euro lobby costs per year: PIL Membranes (reporting only having one part-time lobbyist), ASML Netherlands BV (two part-time lobbyists) and Invesco Asset Management (2 FTE). Others mistakenly report spending millions of euros on EU lobbying, while declaring no EP accredited lobbyists and a very low figure for staff time on lobbying, for instance Bulgarian-American Credit Bank (0.5 FTE), Mattheeuws Eric Transport (0.25 FTE) and Threadneedle Asset Management (0.25 FTE), S.C. Societatea de Transport Public S.A. Alba Iulia (0.25 FTE) and Port Bulgaria West (0.25 FTE). Finally, there are several companies that both report large lobby spending and large numbers of lobbyists, with both figures being extremely unlikely: Netcad Software Company (an Ankara-based SME declaring 50 parttime lobbyists), Romanian Air Traffic Services Administration (40 fulltime lobbyists), Balltec Ltd (40 fulltime lobbyists) and paij GmbH (25 fulltime lobbyists). None of these companies have accredited lobbyists with European Parliament access passes, nor do they have Brussels lobbying offices.

The fact that the lobby spending figures reported by 15 out of the top-25 biggest spenders seem to be way off-mark, shows that the new EU Transparency Register continues to suffer from seriously unreliable data. Far stronger monitoring and enforcement is needed.