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Cash for gold - German euroskeptics' fundraising in question

Maybe it could be called an alternative for euroskeptic fundraising, as opposed to Germany. The AfD's online gold shop, set up to bolster finances and thereby ensure more state assistance on top, has come into question.

The speaker or president of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, on Friday said that he was considering changing the rules on party financing in Germany.

Lammert was responding to the euroskeptic AfD ("Alternative for Germany") party's online gold shop, where the AfD sells gold at nearly-competitive rates to people looking "to buy gold products and simultaneously support the AfD," as the shop's front page puts it.

Landtagswahlen in Sachsen 2014 AfD Lucke

The AfD has made major gains in several state elections, after narrowly missing out nationally last year

The AfD has said that it set up this trading platform to ensure that it qualifies for the maximum amount of state aid that a party can receive under German law.

German political parties are eligible for a maximum of 2 million euros ($2.48 million) in state financial aid each year - but to receive this, they must generate the same sum in revenues. Lammert on Friday said, however, that the constitutional provision demanding that parties generate at least half of their funding themselves had traditional grassroots donations in mind, not activity like this.

Hitting the quota

In terms of gross turnover, the AfD has logged 2.1 million euros in sales, meaning it qualifies for the full complement of taxpayer assistance for 2014: "That was our goal, and we've achieved it," a party spokesperson told the Reuters news agency.

Profit margins on the enterprise are of course far smaller - the AfD has to buy the gold before selling it - but just bolstering the revenue figures suffices to bring in the state assistance.

"This is pure madness," Green party politician Britta Hasselmann said. "The AfD is conducting a lucrative business and then being rewarded with taxpayer funds on top."

Cashing in on euro critique

As a newcomer on the German political scene, the AfD argues that it lacks the grassroots networks and contacts to commercial investors that the established German parties use to raise their funds. Their inventive solution also intentionally adopts a political stance, with the party saying that its faith in the profitability of gold products is rooted in its doubts about the stability of the euro currency.

"We cannot and do not want to take responsibility for how citizens invest their money. That is not a political party's job," the online shop's introductory text states. "But we do recognize that gold is fundamentally a product which is perceived by many citizens as a crisis-resistant and forward-thinking form of investment. We are available to these citizens as a provider of gold products."

The same preamble concludes with an invitation for customers to provide a traditional political donation, besides those prized new coins or gold bars, noting that 20,000 German citizens currently contribute.

Proof of the party's arrival?

Europawahl 2014 Wahlplakat AfD

"Who will pay for us when we can no longer pay?" One of many eurozone debt-driven slogans from the AfD

Party officials on Friday said that they were expecting a complaint, sooner or later, about their alternative fundraising platform - but claimed that they were just trying to level an already-skewed playing field.

"For decades, the established German parties have benefitted from an evolved network of contributors and companies," leading AfD politician Frauke Petry said.

She advised parliamentary speaker Lammert, a Christian Democrat, to think back to the expenses scandal that toppled Helmut Kohl, when the CDU was forced to admit to keeping millions in anonymous donations off the public record, often in tax havens like Switzerland. Petry said that the legal sale of gold coins online paled in comparison to such practices.

Party spokesman Christian Lüth went a step further, saying the complaint was only raised because of the site's success: "The large interest which the AfD's gold trading service has found among citizens, is in itself proof that the party is laying roots in German society."

Only founded in 2013, with an ideology

somewhat comparable to that of UKIP in Britain

, the AfD is already close to establishing a spot in the German political mainstream. At its first ever general election last September, it came agonizingly close to clearing the 5-percent hurdle required to qualify for national parliamentary representation, winning 4.7 percent of the vote.

On a regional level, the AfD

has already enjoyed greater success

: in the eastern state of Thuringia, for instance, it won 11 of 91 seats (10.6 percent of the vote) in September elections. The euroskeptics also hold seven seats at the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg, following a 7.1-percent haul in May's European elections - only a modest success by the standards of euroskeptics or far-right groups in several other EU countries.

As for the party's online shop, it's planning to soon expand and offer the sale of books. However, only titles in keeping with the party policies are liable to be offered: spokesman Lüth said that works by former Social Democrat politician turned immigration critic Thilo Sarrazin could be examples of the type of texts set to go on sale.

msh/ws (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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