California Nonprofit May Have Violated Tax Law By Donating to Anti-Muslim, Far-Right Dutch Candidate

The David Horowitz Freedom Center, as a nonprofit organization, isn't allowed to make political donations. But it has been underwriting Geert Wilders's PVV in the Netherlands.

Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party, poses for a photograph following an interview in The Hague, Netherlands, on Thursday, June 16, 2016. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that he wouldnt rule out governing with anti-Islam Freedom Party leader Wilders, as he acknowledged a collective failure by traditional parties to adequately respond to voter concerns. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party in The Hague, Netherlands, on June 16, 2016. Photo: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg News/Getty Images

The David Horowitz Freedom Center, a controversial California-based nonprofit that sponsors virulently anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant campaigns in the U.S., has quietly played a prominent role in financing Dutch far-right nationalist Geert Wilders’s People’s Party for Freedom (PVV). The PVV’s platform calls for an end to Muslim immigration and the closing down of mosques and Islamic schools in the Netherlands — and polls suggest it may win the largest number of seats in the Netherland’s parliamentary elections this month.

By providing grants to the PVV, the Freedom Center, which operates as aa 501(c)3 nonprofit, may have violated IRS tax rules that prohibit tax-exempt charitable groups from funding overt political campaign activity.

Former IRS tax officials who spoke to The Intercept also note that the Freedom Center failed to disclose the grants to Wilders’s political party in its annual tax return, another potential violation of the law. Nonprofit groups’ tax returns are public documents.

Records posted by the Dutch interior ministry show that in 2014 and 2015 the Freedom Center provided multiple donations totaling 126,354 euros — approximately $134,000 — to the “Stichting Vrienden van de PVV,” or the Friends of the PVV Foundation, the fundraising arm of the party.

The Friends of the PVV, a subsidiary group of the party, is the foundation used to solicit outside funds for Wilders, according to The Power of Populism, a book by historian Koen Vossen chronicling the rise of Wilders and his party. Go to the party’s website, and the “donate” button takes you to a PayPal account for the Friends of the PVV.

In 2014, the Friends of the PVV reported receiving 18,110.69 euros — or about $19,000 — from the Freedom Center. But in its 2014 tax return, the Freedom Center indicated that it had not provided any foreign grants of more than $5,000 that year. And in another section of the return, the center failed to disclose any foreign grants at all.

Screenshots from the David Horowitz Freedom Center 2014 tax return. Highlighted portion relates to foreign grants.

Michael Finch, the president of the Freedom Center, confirmed the donations, but said that they may have been a “pass through” for Wilders’s legal defense fund. Wilders has found himself in court on multiple occasions in the Netherlands over accusations that he has incited hate speech toward Muslims.

Speaking over the phone, he said would need to “do some research” and would respond to questions over email. Requests for comment over email were not returned. The PVV did not respond to a request for comment.

“The gift from the David Horowitz Foundation to the ‘Friends of the PVV’ does constitute funding for Wilders’s party,” said Ruud Koole, a professor of political science at Leiden University, in an email to The Intercept.

The six figure grants also “constitute a considerable amount of money from a single donor according to Dutch standards,” he added. That is especially true due to the unique structure of the PVV, which does not accept traditional state subsidies because the party only has one member controlling the entire party: Wilders. Dutch law requires that political parties seeking state election subsidies must have at least 1,000 members.

“All in all, the PVV has very little income. Therefore, the gift from the Freedom Center is relatively important,” Koole said.

The exact amount given to the PVV from the Freedom Center is under dispute. The Dutch newspaper NRC reported in December that Horowitz’s foundation acknowledged sending the PVV $75,000 in 2014, followed by $75,000 in 2015 and $25,000 in 2016 — bringing the total amount to $175,000. The newspaper pointed out that those figures did not reflect the figures in the campaign filings to the Dutch government — and that Wilders’s accountant, who had approved the campaign filings, declined to explain the disparity.

The Freedom Center’s donation to a foreign political party “seems on its face to violate the law,” said Louisiana State University law professor Philip Hackney, who spent five years working for the IRS’s chief counsel. “A charity is not supposed to make a contribution to a political campaign.”

Hackney compared the situation to Donald Trump’s foundation, which faces a fine for making a political contribution to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The prohibition on 501(c)3 political donations applies to political donations both domestically and abroad, he added.

Marcus Owens, an attorney who previously managed the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt organizations, said the Freedom Center’s failure to report the foreign grants on its IRS filings could also create legal problems. “Failure to report, or report accurately, could thus trigger a range of penalties beginning with civil failure-to-file penalties to criminal penalties for conspiracy to defraud the United States and the making of false statements on tax returns,” Owens said.

Horowitz, a former communist turned conservative firebrand, has used his nonprofit to launch an array of right-wing campaigns to stoke anger about Islam, illegal immigration, and other hot button issues. Horowitz sponsors, a website that depicts Muslims as terrorists and rapists bent on “infiltrating” the top levels of government and both major political parties. The website pushes a regular flow of content against refugees, calling Muslim migrants carriers of infectious disease and predators with a “violent lust for ‘white’ women.”

Jihad Watch, another Horowitz-funded site, mobilized opposition to the construction of an Islamic community center in Manhattan, erroneously calling the project a “victory mosque” celebrating 9/11.

Horowitz, by his own account, mentored Stephen Miller, the controversial White House aide, starting when Miller was in high school. Miller declared in a recent interview that President Trump’s national security policies “will not be questioned,” and is playing a prominent role in shaping executive orders related to immigration, including the attempt to temporarily ban travel from seven majority-Muslim countries and block refugees. Miller invited Horowitz to speak at his high school in Santa Monica and at Duke University, where Miller managed a chapter of Horowitz’s “Terrorism Awareness Project.”

Wilders, arguably the most bombastic anti-Muslim politician in Europe, has cultivated close ties with the American far right. He frequently tours the U.S. to give lectures on the dangers of Islam and is known for his crude commentary on Muslim immigrants. He has called Moroccans “scum” and promoted a theory that the prophet Muhammed suffered from a brain tumor and that his visions were a result of “paranoid schizophrenia” from the disorder.

Wilders has appeared at multiple Horowitz-related events over the last decade. Horowitz’s Freedom Center hosted Wilder at an event adjacent to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2009. The following year, the Dutch politician appeared at a rally organized by Horowitz-funded bloggers to protest the proposed Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan. In 2014, Wilders spoke at Restoration Weekend, Horowitz’s annual summit used to raise money for his foundation.

NRC also reported that Horowitz organized a fundraiser for Wilders in Washington in 2009, raising $75,000. Dutch political parties were not required to publicly report donations until 2013.

Nina Rosenwald, an heiress recently profiled by The Intercept for her role in financing the anti-Muslim refugee movement — and a donor to Horowitz’s Freedom Center —  recently told Politico that she has also provided support to Wilders, but she wouldn’t say how much.

Wilders tweeted in December to thank Horowitz, a “dear friend and ally” for all “your support and friendship.”

Top photo: Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party in The Hague, Netherlands, on June 16, 2016.

Join The Conversation