With hundreds of millions of dollars poured into presidential and congressional elections in the United States it can be difficult, even for mega donors like George Soros, to truly understand how much influence is being “bought.” That’s why Soros is pursuing a new strategy to dump millions into the campaigns of local district attorneys, a position which “exercises the greatest discretion and power in the system.” So far, Soros has funneled $3 million into seven local DA races over the past year but his support is “expected to intensify in the next few years, thanks to longer-term planning and candidate recruitment.” In general, Soros looks to fund progressive DAs running on platforms to “reduce racial disparity in sentencing” and support prison “diversion programs” for drug offenders instead of trials that could result in jail time. As Politico points out:
Prosecutorial discretion gives district attorneys a huge say in the charges and sentences that defendants face. But reform efforts have not traditionally focused on harnessing that power.
“They are often a very invisible part of the criminal justice system and the political system,” said Brenda Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, an arm of the progressive Women Donors Network. “Many people can’t name their district attorney. It’s not an office people think about a lot.”
Carter’s group commissioned research in 2015 that found that 95 percent of elected local prosecutors in the U.S. are white and three-quarters overall are white men. It also highlighted a Wake Forest University study that found that a vast majority of prosecutors — 85 percent — run for reelection unopposed.
“I found that to be shocking, and I think people are waking up to the untapped potential for intervention in these seats to really change the day-to-day realities of criminal justice,” Carter said. “It’s been really gratifying for us to see the research taken up and run with by different groups around the country.”
So far, Soros has been quite successful with 6 out of 7 of his candidates ultimately winning their election bids. Alas, despite the fact that DAs “exercise the greatest discretion and power in the system” one Soros pick in Mississippi proved it’s possible for even a DA to overstep their legal bounds. Hinds County, Mississipi DA, Robert Shuler, whose reelection campaign was funded by Soros, was recently charged by Mississippi’s attorney general for “improperly providing information to defendants.”
Soros has spent on district attorney campaigns in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas through a network of state-level super PACs and a national “527” unlimited-money group, each named a variation on “Safety and Justice.” (Soros has also funded a federal super PAC with the same name.) Each organization received most of its money directly from Soros, according to public state and federal financial records, though some groups also got donations from nonprofits like the Civic Participation Action Fund, which gave to the Safety and Justice group in Illinois.
Soros’ spending started on these races about a year ago, when he put over $1 million into “Safety and Justice” groups that helped elect two new district attorneys in Louisiana and Mississippi and reelect a third — Hinds County, Miss., DA Robert Shuler Smith — who has since been charged by the Mississippi attorney general with improperly providing information to defendants.
After the Louisiana and Mississippi races, Soros next piled money into two of the biggest jurisdictions in the country: Houston’s Harris County (his lone losing effort so far) and Chicago’s Cook County, where he funded one of several groups that helped Kim Foxx defeat incumbent state’s attorney Anita Alvarez in a high-profile primary campaign dominated by the 13-month delay between the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and the indictment of the police officer involved.
In late spring, $107,000 from a Soros-funded New Mexico super PAC helped Raul Torrez win his Democratic district attorney primary by a 2-to-1 margin in Albuquerque’s Bernalillo County. Torrez’s Republican opponent dropped out of the general election soon after, citing the potentially exorbitant cost of opposing the Soros-backed candidate in the general election.
But, for those of you worried that Soros isn’t doing enough to “reshape the American justice system” please know that the plan is to “invest” far more in these races going forward. In fact, as Politico points out, the only hold back so far has been a lack of goodpuppetscandidates.
While Soros has spent heavily in 2015 and 2016, a broader national push into local prosecutor campaigns is expected to intensify in the next few years, thanks to longer-term planning and candidate recruitment. A Safety and Justice group has already organized in Ohio, according to campaign finance filings there. But it has not yet disclosed raising or spending any money.
“There’s been a realization that there’s not very much we can do this year, when you’re coming up to an election,” said Steele. “You have to have the right candidates. That’s a big piece of the puzzle and why I’m part of this conversation. … A lot of the conversations I’m having are about 2017 and 2018, about looking forward to next year in Virginia and other places.”
That means more local candidates should prepare for the shock of one of the biggest donors in American politics flooding their neighborhoods with ads.
Oddly enough, not everyone is pleased with New York billionaires meddling in local elections when they have no vested interest in the community.
Opponents of Soros’ favored candidates have laced into the billionaire, saying that his influence has wildly tipped the scales of local elections and even charging that he made residents less safe.
“As a candidate and citizen of Caddo Parish, if an outsider was that interested in the race, I wanted to know exactly what he had in mind for the criminal justice system if he were to win,” said Dhu Thompson, a Louisiana attorney who lost a district attorney race to a Soros-backed candidate, James Stewart, in 2015. Soros gave over $930,000 — more than 22 times the local median household income — to the group boosting Stewart.
“I know some of his troubling opinions on social issues, especially the criminal justice system,” Thompson said. “I’ve never known him as an individual who was very strong on some of our crime and punishment issues. I felt it was very detrimental to the safety of Caddo Parish, and that’s why I took such a strong stand against him.”
That said, we’re sure any objections to George’s plan is derived from a simple misunderstanding of his motives. After all, last time someone said he wanted to “fundamentally transform” America it worked out pretty well, right?