Now, information about the party's secret financial backers is emerging: according to sworn affidavits reviewed by Spiegel, the party has long been backed by reclusive billionaire August von Finck through his trusted lieutenant Ernst Knut Stahl, who, in 2017, courted a publisher with an offer to work on a new anti-Merkel newspaper called Deutschland Kurier, aimed at countering the influence of "a street in New York with lots of investment bankers, lawyers and so forth...they are all Jews...They control everything. Merkel and also Ralf Stegner from the SPD."
Deutschland Kurier is now a going concern, and hundreds of thousands of copies of it were mailed to voters in the runup to the last German federal elections, warning of "exploding migrant crime" and briefing against Merkel, while throwing heavy support behind AfD.
The Kurier's parent organization is the "Association for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Citizen Freedoms," whose PAC has provided generous support to the AfD -- at least €10,000,000 worth of posters, and free newspapers.
AfD won seats in all 16 German state Parliaments in that election.
The AfD campaigns as an anti-establishment party that says it rejects corporate money and calls for restrictions on big money donations in politics, and accuses the established parties of being creatures of "big money."
The revelations about Stahl and von Finck's possible financial links to AfD come amidst a scandal about huge pools of dark money flowing into AfD campaign coffers through dodgy Swiss bank accounts and cutout "foundations" in the Netherlands.
Secret money is critical to the establishment of autocracy and the weakening of democracy. Democracies depend on good knowledge about how everyone feels, which tells you whether a given political compromise reflects a good-faith effort to broker a deal that everyone can live with. Autocracies rely on confusion about the true political views in a society: if you don't know that other people feel as discontented with the ruling elites as you do, you feel isolated and helpless. That's why autocrats spend so much effort propping up astroturf groups (including groups that oppose them, at least in Russia): the harder it is to sort genuine grassroots movements from dark-money funded sock-puppets, the harder it is to figure out whether you sense that everything is fucked up is legitimate or just a personal delusion.
As wealth inequality worsens and billionaires have to go to further and further lengths to keep reforms at bay, expect more of this kind of thing. Extremist, violent nativist movements aren't a natural outgrowth of a shift in sentiment: rather, they represent the cynical manipulation of disaffected, frightened, angry people by the billionaire class who see them as disavowable brownshirts to roil the political arena and keep change at bay.
But now, this party that claims to be so squeaky-clean finds itself neck deep in a debate about its corruptibility. The beginning of that debate came two weeks ago, with revelations from the reporting network made up of the two public broadcasters NDR and WDR along with the influential German daily S üddeutsche Zeitung. The media outlets reported on a large donor in Switzerland who had sent significant amounts of money to the local AfD chapter in Alice Weidel's electoral district on Lake Constance in southwestern Germany. Additional reports soon followed about support for Weidel from a dubious foundation in the Netherlands. Prosecutors in Konstanz have since launched an investigation into Weidel and three other AfD members to determine if party finance laws were broken. More recently, there have been new revelations that a confidante of Weidel's was in close touch with David Bendels, head of the pro-AfD group Association for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Citizen Freedoms.
The reporting by WOZ and DER SPIEGEL now make it clear that Weidel's apparent network is not an exception in the party. There are plenty of indicators that the party has been dependent on the beneficence of wealthy donors from the very beginning.
The AfD is aware of how dangerous the revelations are for the party, and nerves are raw. That was on full display in the most recent general debate in the German parliament, with floor leader Alice Weidel stepping up to the microphone to hold a fiery speech. But it wasn't an invective against government policy. Instead, she held a monologue about the donation affairs that other parties have fallen victim to over the years. The AfD, Weidel insisted, had "not tried to cover anything up," adding that careful records had been kept about all AfD bank accounts. "No suitcases full of money were carried back and forth about whose whereabouts nobody can, or wants to, remember," she said, a reference to the party donation scandal that shook the CDU at the end of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's tenure and about which he remained silent until the end of his life. At the conclusion of her speech, Weidel said: "We don't need any moral expostulations from you!"
A Billionaire Backer and the Murky Finances of the AfD [Melanie Amann, Sven Becker and Sven Röbel/Der Spiegel]