- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

Editor's note: The following is the final article in a three-part series.

If someone wanted to influence world leaders through political donations, the exquisite Bayerischer Hof hotel would not be a bad place to discuss the transaction. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl chatted with media king Leo Kirch here Dec. 30 of last year, somewhere in this maze of ornate, chandelier-lit rooms. The long-time friend was fingered as one of Mr. Kohl's political donors, both before and after the former chancellor admitted this year to having accepted $1 million in illegal contributions for his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) during his time in office.
Former CDU General Manager Uwe Luthje said this five-star hotel was also the place a high-ranking Siemens Corporation official told him he'd pay the party millions for several years in 1984. Whether he could have done so without being noticed is another question. Currently, party financing laws are supposed to make sure that more than a hotel concierge is aware of the under-the-table lobbying tactics made by powerful private corporations. But when the company convinces the party not to declare the donations, it is the entire party, not the corporation, that is responsible.
Conveniently located just down the cobble-stoned street from the Bayerischer Hof is the headquarters of Siemens, an industrial and consumer products company. Mr. Luthje said the company donated as much as 9 million deutsche marks (about $4.5 million)to the CDU from 1984 to 1992, but former CDU Treasurer Walther Leisler-Kiep testified in April to the parliamentary investigating committee looking into illegal CDU donations that he never received money from Siemens as Mr. Luthje claimed.
Days after Mr. Kiep's testimony, Communications Director Eberhard Posner played down the impact such an investigation would have on his company. "It wouldn't be a major problem if it turned out things like that would have happened, so there's no reason to hide it. It would be an image problem, but it would not be a formal problem," he told The Washington Times.
The CDU, rather than his corporation, would have to deal with the legal implications, he said. Of course, Siemens has had internal policy regulations which stated that after 1984, no money should be given to political parties, he said. "We already had problems with salespeople in the past. We know it can be a big problem," he said. But for companies such as Siemens which has more than 400,000 employees around the world and $70 billion in sales last year such an "image problem" may not have been enough to prevent the covert lobbying tactics.
Siemens paid tens of millions in marks to the CDU to make it look the other direction while it illegally produced massive quantities of technology and documents for the completion of one - megabyte chips for the former East Germany, the parliamentary investigative committee revealed at the end of last month. Citing a letter dated Feb. 26, 1990, the committee revealed that the federal information service director, Hans-Georg Wieck, made Mr. Kohl's office aware of the illegal high-tech deal, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported. The deal would have violated the embargo on trade with East Germany before the reunification occurred. Both Mr. Kohl and Siemens deny knowledge of such an occurrence.
Perhaps the chancellor's party was too busy being bought to take note of the transaction. But the question remains as to why it took so long for such evidence to surface. From the outside, it appears the rules that are now in place in Germany concerning the amount of donations are sufficient: Every party contribution over 20,000 deutsche marks ($10,000) must be declared.
This amount is significantly higher than the system in the United States. Individuals in the United States may only give $1,000 and political action committees $5,000 to specific candidates per election. But Germans don't spend as much on average on political campaigns as Americans. German parties only receive federal money after the election, according to the number of votes they have received and the amount of donations they get from independent individuals. Private corporations fill in the gaps left by federal and individual donations on both sides of the Atlantic, buying the government's favor.
If large companies would face more than an "image problem" as punishment for their attempts to buy political favor, citizens of both countries could discover a political finance system they are proud to trust. The alternative is the corrupt ethics that parties like the CDU have allowed to take hold a morality that allows for trade embargoes to be broken, national technology secrets to be exported and the corporations to continue telling the government that political values can be bought and sold.

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Sarah Means is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.

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