washingtonpost.com

Why I Gave


By George Soros

Friday, December 5, 2003; Page A31

I and a number of other wealthy Americans are contributing millions of dollars to grass-roots organizations engaged in the 2004 presidential election. We are deeply concerned with the direction in which the Bush administration is taking the United States and the world.

If Americans reject the president's policies at the polls, we can write off the Bush Doctrine as a temporary aberration and resume our rightful place in the world. If we endorse those policies, we shall have to live with the hostility of the world and endure a vicious cycle of escalating violence.

In this effort, I have committed $10 million to America Coming Together, a grass-roots get-out-the-vote operation, and $2.5 million to the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, a popular Internet advocacy group that is airing advertisements to highlight the administration's misdeeds. This is a pittance in comparison with money raised and spent by conservative groups.

Rather than a debate on the issues, there's been a lot of name-calling by such groups as the Republican National Committee and the National Rifle Association. In an attempt to taint the groups I support and intimidate other donors, they imply that my contributions are illegitimate or that I have somehow broken the law.

In fact, I have scrupulously abided by both the letter and the spirit of the law. Both America Coming Together and the MoveOn.org Voter Fund are "527" organizations -- referring to Section 527 of the tax code -- which are entitled to receive unlimited contributions from individuals. Both groups are fully transparent about their motives and activities. Both file detailed and frequent reports with government regulators.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was an attempt to limit the influence that special interests can gain by financing candidates and to level the playing field between the two parties. My contributions are made in that spirit.

President Bush has a huge fundraising advantage because he has figured out a clever way to raise money. He relies on donors he calls "Pioneers," who collect $100,000 apiece in campaign contributions in increments that fall within the legal limit of $2,000 a person, and on those he calls "Rangers," who collect at least $200,000.

Many of these Pioneers and Rangers are corporate officials who are well situated to raise funds from their business associates, bundle them together and pass them along with tracking numbers to ensure proper "credit." They are buying the same level of access and influence for their corporate interests that they previously obtained with their own and corporate funds. With the help of Pioneers and Rangers, President Bush is on track to collect $200 million.

To counter the fundraising advantage obtained by this strategy, I have contributed to independent organizations that by law are forbidden to coordinate their activities with the political parties or candidates. That law minimizes or eliminates the ability to purchase influence in exchange for my contribution. Moreover, I don't seek such influence. My contributions are made in what I believe to be the common interest. ACT is working to register voters, and MoveOn is getting more people engaged in the national debate over Bush's policies.

I recognize that the system is imperfect, and I wish there were a different way to level the playing field. Making contributions to ACT and the MoveOn.org Voter Fund is the best approach I have found. I have been an advocate of campaign finance reform for almost a decade, including the legal defense of the current legislation. I recognize that every new regulation has unintended adverse consequences, but this does not mean reform should be abandoned.

Clearly, the rules need to be updated in the light of the 2004 experience. Some good proposals have already surfaced, including one from the major sponsors of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. This bill should be supported. Among other measures, it calls for an increase in the federal match for small contributions and would raise the spending limit for candidates who accept public funding to $75 million -- changes that would reduce the bias toward big-money donors. Free airtime for candidates is also important. This would reduce the cost of campaigns and the distorting effect of commercials.

Full disclosure and transparency are clearly beneficial. It is important that people know where financial support is coming from. I have been open about my contributions, and I welcome the debate they have sparked. In the meantime, as the debate continues, my contributions help to ensure that the money spent on trying to reelect President Bush doesn't overwhelm the process.

The writer is chairman of the Soros Management Fund and author of "The Bubble of American Supremacy."

 

2003 The Washington Post Company

 

Source: Washington Post


Soros's Deep Pockets vs. Bush
Financier Contributes $5 Million More in Effort to Oust President
By Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 11, 2003; Page A03


NEW YORK -- George Soros, one of the world's richest men, has given away nearly $5 billion to promote democracy in the former Soviet bloc, Africa and Asia. Now he has a new project: defeating President Bush.



"It is the central focus of my life," Soros said, his blue eyes settled on an unseen target. The 2004 presidential race, he said in an interview, is "a matter of life and death."

Soros, who has financed efforts to promote open societies in more than 50 countries around the world, is bringing the fight home, he said. On Monday, he and a partner committed up to $5 million to MoveOn.org, a liberal activist group, bringing to $15.5 million the total of his personal contributions to oust Bush.

Overnight, Soros, 74, has become the major financial player of the left. He has elicited cries of foul play from the right. And with a tight nod, he pledged: "If necessary, I would give more money."

"America, under Bush, is a danger to the world," Soros said. Then he smiled: "And I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is."

Soros believes that a "supremacist ideology" guides this White House. He hears echoes in its rhetoric of his childhood in occupied Hungary. "When I hear Bush say, 'You're either with us or against us,' it reminds me of the Germans." It conjures up memories, he said, of Nazi slogans on the walls, Der Feind Hort mit ("The enemy is listening"). "My experiences under Nazi and Soviet rule have sensitized me," he said in a soft Hungarian accent.

Soros's contributions are filling a gap in Democratic Party finances that opened after the restrictions in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law took effect. In the past, political parties paid a large share of television and get-out-the-vote costs with unregulated "soft money" contributions from corporations, unions and rich individuals. The parties are now barred from accepting such money. But non-party groups in both camps are stepping in, accepting soft money and taking over voter mobilization.

"It's incredibly ironic that George Soros is trying to create a more open society by using an unregulated, under-the-radar-screen, shadowy, soft-money group to do it," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said. "George Soros has purchased the Democratic Party."

In past election cycles, Soros contributed relatively modest sums. In 2000, his aide said, he gave $122,000, mostly to Democratic causes and candidates. But recently, Soros has grown alarmed at the influence of neoconservatives, whom he calls "a bunch of extremists guided by a crude form of social Darwinism."

Neoconservatives, Soros said, are exploiting the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a preexisting agenda of preemptive war and world dominion. "Bush feels that on September 11th he was anointed by God," Soros said. "He's leading the U.S. and the world toward a vicious circle of escalating violence."

Soros said he had been waking at 3 a.m., his thoughts shaking him "like an alarm clock." Sitting in his robe, he wrote his ideas down, longhand, on a stack of pads. In January, PublicAffairs will publish them as a book, "The Bubble of American Supremacy" (an excerpt appears in December's Atlantic Monthly). In it, he argues for a collective approach to security, increased foreign aid and "preventive action."

"It would be too immodest for a private person to set himself up against the president," he said. "But it is, in fact" -- he chuckled -- "the Soros Doctorine."

His campaign began last summer with the help of Morton H. Halperin, a liberal think tank veteran. Soros invited Democratic strategists to his house in Southampton, Long Island, including Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta, Jeremy Rosner, Robert Boorstin and Carl Pope.

They discussed the coming election. Standing on the back deck, the evening sun angling into their eyes, Soros took aside Steve Rosenthal, CEO of the liberal activist group America Coming Together (ACT), and Ellen Malcolm, its president. They were proposing to mobilize voters in 17 battleground states. Soros told them he would give ACT $10 million.


Asked about his moment in the sun, Rosenthal deadpanned: "We were disappointed. We thought a guy like George Soros could do more." Then he laughed. "No, kidding! It was thrilling."


Malcolm: "It was like getting his Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."

"They were ready to kiss me," Soros quipped.

Before coffee the next morning, his friend Peter Lewis, chairman of the Progressive Corp., had pledged $10 million to ACT. Rob Glaser, founder and CEO of RealNetworks, promised $2 million. Rob McKay, president of the McKay Family Foundation, gave $1 million and benefactors Lewis and Dorothy Cullman committed $500,000.

Soros also promised up to $3 million to Podesta's new think tank, the Center for American Progress.

Soros will continue to recruit wealthy donors for his campaign. Having put a lot of money into the war of ideas around the world, he has learned that "money buys talent; you can advocate more effectively."

At his home in Westchester, N.Y., he raised $115,000 for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. He also supports Democratic presidential contenders Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.).

In an effort to limit Soros's influence, the RNC sent a letter to Dean Monday, asking him to request that ACT and similar organizations follow the McCain-Feingold restrictions limiting individual contributions to $2,000.

The RNC is not the only group irked by Soros. Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which promotes changes in campaign finance , has benefited from Soros's grants over the years. Soros has backed altering campaign finance, an aide said, donating close to $18 million over the past seven years.

"There's some irony, given the supporting role he played in helping to end the soft money system," Wertheimer said. "I'm sorry that Mr. Soros has decided to put so much money into a political effort to defeat a candidate. We will be watchdogging him closely."

An aide said Soros welcomes the scrutiny. Soros has become as rich as he has, the aide said, because he has a preternatural instinct for a good deal.

Asked whether he would trade his $7 billion fortune to unseat Bush, Soros opened his mouth. Then he closed it. The proposal hung in the air: Would he become poor to beat Bush?

He said, "If someone guaranteed it."