Selling the Corporate Soul

Article excerpt

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

MUNICH - 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. …