Are German politicians for sale? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.03.2010
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Germany

Are German politicians for sale?

The president of the German parliament called for a review of party financing laws after revelations that business leaders paid for meetings with two state premiers.

State Premier Rüttgers

Ruettgers said he didn't know businesses paid to meet with him.

The president of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, called for a review of the laws regulating political party financing. The Christian Democrat politician made his remarks on Tuesday after revelations that business leaders paid for meetings with two state premiers.

"In Germany we have a precise but very rigid set of rules guiding the financing of political parties," Lammert told national broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. "The central idea is that a party should neither be financed exclusively by private nor public means, in order to maintain a balance."

Time is money

Last week, CDU officials in Saxony confirmed to German news magazine Der Spiegel that the party had sold personal meetings with State Premier Stanislaw Tillich to party supporters. The conservative party officials offered sponsors of a party event the opportunity for a photo shoot, a mention of their business in the welcoming speech and a brief conversation with Tillich for about 8,000 euros ($10,900).

The news followed the revelation that the conservative state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, met with business leaders who paid extra fees for the privilege. State Premier Juergen Ruettgers, who is up for re-election this year, subsequently cast the blame on his party's secretary-general, who was forced to resign.

Damage control

So far the sponsoring scandal has been limited to politicians in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party traditionally most affiliated with business interests.

The party has been eager to distance itself from the practice.

"A premier should not be sold for cash. Period," parliamentary leader Volker Kauder told the Reutlinger General-Anzeiger newspaper.

On Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel warned regional party leaders against cozying up to businesses in return for donations, cautioning leaders to avoid mixing the office of the State Premier with party sponsorship, lest it be misconstrued as soliciting.

Euros

A meeting with Tillich? 8000 euros, please.

North Rhine-Westphalia faces state elections on May 9. The poll has significance on the federal level, since a defeat for the CDU could mean that Germany's governing coalition might lose its majority in the second chamber of the German parliament.

Advertising disguised as donations

The practice of sponsoring political parties differs from making a straightforward campaign contribution, said Professor Hans J. Kleinsteuber of the University of Hamburg.

While party donations over 10,000 euros ($13,500) must be included in a party's accountability report and are not tax-deductable, sponsorship is a corporate business expense and can be written off taxes.

The notion of businesses being able to buy a private audience with a premier "smacks of commercialism," Professor Kleinsteuber told Deutsche Welle.

"It's a fundamental concept of German political parties that one cannot buy access to a politician," said Kleinsteuber in a telephone interview.

More transparency

There is some support in parliament for more transparency around sponsoring, said Professor Kleinsteuber, although it's unlikely to be banned outright: "Currently, the discussion is more about regulating the practice than banning it completely," he said.

The Green party is in favour of changing the party financing laws to make sponsorship subject to the same restrictions as donations. The Left party wants to ban all donations from business.

Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Michael Lawton

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