Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democratic Party's candidate to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in a general election in late 2013, tried on Tuesday to defuse controversy surrounding his considerable income from lectures by making a full disclosure revealing he earned 1.25 million ($1.6 million) between 2009 and mid-July 2012.
Steinbrück, who served as finance minister during Merkel's first term in office between 2005 and late 2009, said he earned an average of 14,000 per lecture and paid 48 percent tax on that income. He said he gave 237 lectures free of charge and denied accusations from rival parties that he was too close to the banks and financial companies who had paid him for holding speeches to them.
"I accepted the paid lectures during a time when neither the SPD nor I expected that I would enter the ring again," Steinbrück told a news conference on Tuesday after publishing details of his private income from speaking engagements in the Internet.
"I'm going far beyond the rules on transparency that currently apply," he said. "I want to set an example that rival parties in parliament should follow."
Addressing his critics among Merkel's ruling coalition of conservatives and pro-business Free Democrats, Steinbrück said: "I would happily help to turn the stone being thrown at me into a boomerang."
The accusations levelled at Steinbrück overshadowed his nomination at the start of October as the SPD's candidate to challenge Merkel as his party's leading candidate. In Germany, the chancellor is elected by parliament at the time a government is formed rather than directly by voters.
Up to 15,000 Per Lecture
The 20-page report compiled by an auditing firm commissioned by Steinbrück lists the companies that hired him, the fees paid, the expenses he charged and the locations of the lectures.
It shows he held six speeches for 15,000 each in 2009 and gave 41 lectures in 2010. In 2011, he gave 32 speeches for sums ranging between 1,600 and 25,000. From January until July 12, 2012, he gave a further 10 talks at 15,000 each.
A senior member of the SPD's left wing, Ralf Stegner, criticized the extent of Steinbrück's income. "It's clear of course that most party members will always take a skeptical view of such a high sum," Stegner told Die Welt newspaper. But he stressed that Steinbrück hadn't broken any rules or laws.
Steinbrück is a member of the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, and the reports of his income have sparked a debate about how much lawmakers should be allowed to earn on the side. Last week a Bundestag commission decided to make members provide more details of their income in the future.
Steinbrück's nomination initially gave the SPD a slight boost in opinion polls, lifting it as high as 30 percent, the highest level in six years. But it has fallen back since, in part due to the pay controversy. The latest survey released on Tuesday by polling institute Forsa put the SPD at 26 percent, well behind Merkel's conservatives at 38 percent.