The long-awaited trial of Dutch politician Geert Wilders begins this week. Charged with inciting hatred, Wilders could be facing several months – or even years – of court hearings. But Wilders is not independently wealthy, so where will he get the money to pay for his defence?
Geert Wilders sees no need to disclose the source of his funds, as he has explained:
“I don’t know why anyone should know. The one thing that’s important is that the lawyers’ bills should be paid. Where I get my money and from whom is nobody’s business.”
However, there is a public interest involved in how and where Mr Wilders raises money. He is already an influential figure in Dutch politics, and that influence looks sure to grow. For ten months now opinion polls have consistently shown his Freedom Party to be one of the largest in the Netherlands. So, voters may be curious as to who is backing him financially.
Across the Atlantic
An important source of funding for his legal defence comes from supporters in the United States. He has travelled there frequently: showing his anti-Islam film Fitna, giving speeches, accepting awards. And raising money.
Neither Mr Wilders nor many of those involved in organizing fundraisers for him are prepared to indicate how much money he has raised.
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, has raised money for Geert Wilders’ legal defence through The Legal Project.
“The Legal Project engages in various efforts for individuals who talk about this bundle of issues: Muslims and Islam. Wilders is one of those that we have helped both financially and in other ways. I have helped him in terms of law and in terms of fundraising. But I can’t tell you amounts… It’s not my concern.”
Although Mr Pipes is not prepared to talk in more detail about money raised for Wilders, he has told a Dutch magazine that Wilders raised a six-figure amount during a recent US trip.
"Great personal risk"
Another enthusiastic supporter, Pamela Geller, writes a blog called Atlas Shrugs.
“It’s not a business, it’s a calling. People who support Wilders: it’s a calling… it’s respect that somebody’s standing up at great personal risk. At what is arguably one of the most dangerous crossroads in human history.”
Robert Spencer, another blogger, is also a familiar face at Wilders’ events in the US. His blog Jihad Watch also solicits money for Wilders’ legal defence.
The blog includes the following message from the Freedom Party: “The Freedom Party (PVV) and Geert Wilders are faced with an all-out assault. Exploding legal expenses might cripple the continuation of the battle for our liberties. The survival of the Freedom Party and Geert Wilders’ struggle for the defence of the West are now in jeopardy.”
Readers are asked to send money to a bank account of the Friends of the Freedom Party Foundation. This is the same foundation which funds Freedom Party* activities.
Apparently, Mr Wilders has not set up a separate foundation for his legal defence. According to Dutch daily de Volkskrant, Mr Wilders instead re-wrote the statute of the existing Freedom Party foundation to include his legal defence. This would mean there is no division between donations for Mr Wilders’ personal legal defence and the Freedom Party’s political activities.
This is hard to prove. Neither Mr Wilders nor the Freedom Party provide outsiders access to any financial information. Nor do they have to. Dutch law governing funding for political parties is quite lax.
Done nothing wrong
Ruud Koole is a professor of political science at the University of Leiden and an expert in party financing. He says neither Mr Wilders nor his Freedom Party has done anything wrong.
“The income from parties can come from any source. Even from a foundation that has received the money for other purposes. As long as you don’t receive state subsidies, you are not obliged to disclose it.”
So, under Dutch law, funds raised for Mr Wilders’ legal defence could be used for Freedom Party purposes.
Greco, an anti-corruption body and part of The Council of Europe, reprimanded the Netherlands in 2007 for the lack of transparency regarding political donations. A new law governing political parties and how they are financed is in the making. But as it now stands, Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party have very few limits on how and where they can raise money. And he has no obligation to reveal his money sources.
* The Freedom Party does not receive state subsidies and gets no membership fees because Geert Wilders is the only member. The party is entirely dependent on its own sources of funding.