The specter of Russian interference looms large in the minds of many Europeans headed to the polls for crucial elections this year in the Netherlands, Germany, and France. But in the Netherlands, some voters aren’t just worried about meddling from the Kremlin — they’re also worried about the influence of American money in their upcoming parliamentary elections.
A new report from the New York Times reveals that right-wing American activists have been funneling money to Geert Wilders, the founder and leaders of the nationalist Party for Freedom. Both the Kremlin and conservatives in the US find much to like in Wilders’s opposition to the Netherlands’ membership in the European Union and ferocious criticism of immigration and Islam.
Political campaign seasons in Europe tend to be subdued affairs — typically a fraction of the length and cost of US ones — so modest American donations can make a big splash across the Atlantic. Consider this astonishing point from the Times report:
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.
A mere $120,000 was the single largest contribution of the year in 2015. The president of Horowitz’s foundation claims that the money was meant to help Wilders with legal fees — he’s been put on trial multiple times over hate speech charges in the Netherlands — and not explicit political donations. But the money is going to Wilders’s party, so it’s unclear how donors would be able to control, or know, know the money is actually spent.
Daniel Pipes’s conservative think tank Middle East Forum has given money to a legal fund for Wilders that went into the “six figures,” according to the Times, and two conservative foundations paid for his trips to the US last year. Wilders’s growing profile in the US and outside funding doesn’t explain his rise in the polls in Holland, but it doesn’t hurt it either. Some senior members of parliament have decried the presence of the US in Dutch electoral politics, and have sponsored legislation to ban foreign donations.
Russian interference is considered to be a possible factor in the Dutch election as well. A special task force set up by the European Union has warned that Russia is employing disinformation campaigns — fake news — to try to tip elections in favor of pro-Russian parties across the continent. Their ultimate goal is to boost political parties and movements that threaten European unity on political, economic and security issues.
The Kremlin calculates that a Europe divided is weaker — and that Russia, in turn, will become a more powerful player in the region. Some right-wing Americans appear, wittingly or not, to be receptive to that result.