Before Elections, Dutch Fear Russian Meddling, but Also U.S. Cash

NYT: Нидерланды опасаются российского вмешательства и...  американских денег

AMSTERDAM — The parochial world of Dutch elections is not often seen as a hotbed of foreign intrigue. But in recent months, an unexpected worry has emerged: the influence of American money.

The country’s fast-rising far-right leader, Geert Wilders, is getting help from American conservatives attracted to his anti-European Union and anti-Islam views. David Horowitz, an American right-wing activist, has contributed roughly $150,000 to Mr. Wilders’s Party for Freedom over two years — of which nearly $120,000 came in 2015, making it the largest individual contribution in the Dutch political system that year, according to recently released records.

By American standards, the amount is a pittance. But to some Dutch, who are already fearful of possible Russian meddling in the election, the American involvement is an assault on national sovereignty.

“It’s foreign interference in our democracy,” said Ronald van Raak, a senior member of Parliament in the opposition Socialist party, who has co-sponsored legislation to ban foreign donations. “We would not have thought that people from other countries would have been interested in our politics,” he said. “Maybe we underestimated ourselves.”

The Dutch parliamentary elections on March 15 are the kickoff for a pivotal political year in Europe. Other elections loom in France, Germany and possibly Italy. With the viability of the European Union at stake, anxieties are rising about foreign interference, with European intelligence agencies warning that Russia is working to help far-right parties through hacking and disinformation campaigns.

But sympathy for Europe’s far right is also coming from Americans who share similar views and are willing to contribute money to help the cause. Measuring this outside support is difficult, though, because many European countries have leaky, opaque accountability systems on campaign finance.

France, Germany and the Netherlands have only published campaign finance data from as recently as 2014 or 2015. And only the Netherlands will update that information with more disclosures before Election Day. New campaign finance data is expected to be released on Wednesday.

Though Europe is generally known for its public financing of elections, parties are increasingly seeking outside donations, especially since regulatory loopholes abound. In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany sold gold bars and coins in a strategy to inflate its revenue and, through a quirk of the rules, increase its access to public funds, until the practice was banned by Parliament. German parties have also sought to divert public funds provided to parliamentary caucuses.

“It’s illegal but basically done everywhere” in Germany, said Christoph Möllers, a professor of public law and legal philosophy at Humboldt University of Berlin.

While France bars contributions from businesses, loans are allowed. A Russian bank made headlines in recent years after lending millions of euros to the far-right National Front party of Marine Le Pen. After that bank failed last year, the party complained that it had been shunned by French banks and declared itself in the market for a new lender.

If nothing else, European far-right parties are gaining newly emboldened allies.

“I expect the Trump administration to be more open to these parties than Obama, certainly,” said Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is an ally both of President Trump and the European far right, having met with various party leaders during a recent European trip.

The State Department, in a statement, declined “to comment on political parties in foreign elections.”

Mr. Horowitz, who has long sounded alarms on Muslim immigration, first rallied to Mr. Wilders’s side after the Dutch politician was put on trial in 2010 for inciting hatred against Muslims with a film he made that attacked the Quran; he was acquitted the next year. Mr. Wilders was more recently found guilty of incitement after leading an anti-Moroccan chant at a rally, though he avoided a fine.

“I think he’s the Paul Revere of Europe,” Mr. Horowitz said in an interview. “Geert Wilders is a hero, and I think he’s a hero of the most important battle of our times, the battle to defend free speech,” he added, calling the situation in Europe a “nightmare…”

(Cont) The New York Times


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