The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) donation affair could be larger than previously known.
This is suggested by research by ZDF, Spiegel and the reporter group Correctiv, according to which the AfD received anonymously financed election campaign aid of more than three million euros between 2016 and 2018.
It concerns a total of 9,400 large posters that were commissioned by the advertising space marketer Ströer before the last federal election and eight German state elections.
The Stuttgart “Association for the Preservation of the Rule of Law and Civil Liberties” is officially responsible for the posters - the AfD does not want to have anything to do with the campaign of the anonymously financed association.
But in Ströer's internal booking documents, which are supposed to be available to the journalists, the AfD appears as a “direct customer” for the majority of the orders.
The advertising group allegedly even used the same booking number as for the party's official poster campaigns.
The Swiss advertising agency Goal AG, which is already being investigated for illegal campaign assistance by the AfD, appears in the documents.
“Strong evidence” of illegal party donation
In addition, the research collective had evidence that AfD officials knew about the coordinated campaign.
Internal documents documented direct contact and appointments between AfD election strategists and employees of the Ströer Group.
If this is correct, the AfD would have indicated the posters as a party donation and disclosed the donors.
The legal scholar Sophie Schönberger is demanding, as the Correctiv team announced, investigations by the public prosecutor and the Bundestag administration: "We now have evidence that the campaign was coordinated by the poster manufacturer," she says.
Schönberger sees “very strong indications that the AfD was involved or at least knew a lot about it.
If that is the case, then we would have an illegal party donation ”.
The AfD rejected the connections and announced that there had been no coordination arrangements with a support campaign, and that there was also no mandate from official party bodies to individual employees to agree on arrangements or coordination.
Ströer has already been criticized for “# GrünerMist”
The advertising group Ströer, however, took off on Wednesday - shortly before the announcement of the research - and announced that it would no longer accept party-political advertising campaigns.
This move happens as a result of "defamation, calls for boycotts, threats and property damage," the company said in a press release yesterday.
However, there was also talk of “fifteen questions from a research network” that pushed the Ströer Group into “political proximity to the AfD”.
This means that "the limit of what is acceptable from the company's point of view has finally been exceeded".
Ströer is a "politically neutral company" and only operates as a "service provider".
The group, which is the German market leader with almost 300,000 advertising spaces, has recently been criticized for the “# GrünerMist” campaign.
The large posters, commissioned by the entrepreneur and AfD sympathizer David Bendels from Ströer, were disguised as green election advertising and titled: “Climate Socialism”, “Ecoterrorism” or “Totalitarian”.
A direct connection between the campaign and the AfD has not yet been proven there - this now appears to have been proven for the 9,400 large posters. In the past, the AfD had to pay a fine of 400,000 euros for illegally anonymously financed election posters. Now the party could face significantly more serious financial and legal consequences.