Groups linked to the Trump administration pour ‘dark money’ into activities globally. Credit: openDemocracy/Graphic: Paul Hamilton.
Conservative and evangelical Christian groups linked to the Trump administration are supporting far-right causes in Europe.
According to an investigation published by global news website openDemocracy last week (27 October), the groups have spent more money in Europe than anywhere else outside of the United States, followed by Africa, Asia and Latin America.
OpenDemocracy investigated 28 Christian organisation that oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and adoption, and LGBIQ rights in the US. But not only in the US as the investigation shows.
Scrutinizing thousands of pages of US financial findings, openDemocracy found that that they have spent more than $88 million dollars in Europe during 2007 – 2018. None of the 28 groups investigated disclose the identities of their donors but several are known to have links to conservative billionaires.
Many of these groups are partners of the World Congress of Families (WCF), an international network that has increasing ties with far-right politicians in Europe. The WCF was founded in the 1990s following a meeting in Moscow by US and Russian ultra-conservatives that advocate “traditional” family values.
The US groups have together been involved in numerous legal cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). They have targeted a range of EU member states such as Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Sweden.
In fact, the European Ombudsman released in July this year a report on her inquiry of the role and mandate of the Commission’s “Special Envoy on the promotion of freedom of religion and belief outside the EU”, following a complaint against the envoy’s contacts with ultra-conservative Christian groups.
“Greater attention should have been paid,” the report stated, “to the risk from the perception of this highly sensitive post being exploited given the clashes that can emerge between freedom of religion and belief and other fundamental rights and freedoms.”
“It’s time for the world to wake up. Do not stumble into our mistakes [in the United States] and do not think it could not happen where you live. The rising influence of dark money in US politics was not inevitable,” commented Quinn Mckey, Executive director of human rights NGO Article 19.
“It happened because of a long-standing process to erode accountability and transparency. It was inevitable that these individuals, powering these organisations, would seek to internationalise their influence.”
Mary Fitzgerald, Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy warns: “On the eve of the US election, these findings show how Trump-linked groups have built a frightening global empire, deploying increasingly sophisticated tactics across the world to restrict our lives, and advancing agendas fundamentally incompatible with human rights and democracy.”
Claire Provost, one of the lead authors of the report, told The Brussels Times that she does not believe that the organisations will become weakened and cease their activities in Europe if Donald Trump will lose the presidential elections on Tuesday.
“As our investigation has revealed, these groups have been spending huge sums of money in Europe and around the world for over a decade. Their activities internationally predate Trump’s presidency – and we expect them to continue regardless of whether he wins or loses in the elections.”
“In Europe many of these groups have set up offices, opened bank accounts, hired staff, registered lobbyists, etcetera. This infrastructure will not disappear overnight dependent on the results of the US election.”
OpenDemocracy’s investigative project began in 2017 and was caried out by a global team of 12 feminist investigative journalists based all over the world. “Last year, we followed the money of 12 US groups in Europe ahead of the European Parliament elections, revealing that they had pumped $50 million of dark money into Europe over the past decade,” Claire Provost says.
“One point that came through strongly in this investigation was financial secrecy and the lack of transparency of these groups,” she summarizes. “This is why the spending is called ‘dark money’. Many Christian right organisations are registered as church associations and don’t have even to file any documents – and so the full extent of US religious right funding for these global activities is hidden.”