Rich Man's Crusade; Money Wars: George Soros Is Spending Millions to Defeat George W. Bush. His Critics Say It's Bad for Democracy. Soros Says Bush Is Worse. Inside One Man's Crusade to Change America

By Mabry, Marcus; Beith, Malcolm | Newsweek International, October 18, 2004 | Go to article overview

Rich Man's Crusade; Money Wars: George Soros Is Spending Millions to Defeat George W. Bush. His Critics Say It's Bad for Democracy. Soros Says Bush Is Worse. Inside One Man's Crusade to Change America


Mabry, Marcus, Beith, Malcolm, Newsweek International


Byline: Marcus Mabry (With Malcolm Beith in New York)

It was a long way from Davos. Instead of conversing with central bankers and prime ministers about affairs of state, George Soros found himself last Tuesday standing before students and faculty in a stifling mock courtroom at the University of Pittsburgh law school. Afterward, he lunched for an hour and a half with Pitt faculty. Then it was off to meet with the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Never heard of it? How about the Akron Beacon Journal? The Dayton Daily News? The Cedar Rapids Gazette? After a round of speeches and meetings in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Soros held a conference call with reporters from those little-known dailies on Thursday, answering any question they had, a disembodied voice from his well-appointed aerie above New York's Central Park.

Why is George Soros, the billionaire investor-philanthropist--famed for bringing down currencies and shaking communist regimes--appealing so assiduously to thoroughly middle-class Middle America? He's trying to get their vote. Or, more accurately, he's trying to make sure George W. Bush doesn't. Dismayed by what he perceives to be the Bush administration's unilateralism abroad and its "authoritarian" politics at home, Soros is on a crusade. Before Election Day, he plans to spend almost $25 million of his own money. Not to mention pleading with every single moderate Republican and undecided swing-state voter who'll listen to his argument that a second Bush term would, as Soros puts it, "unhinge the future of the world."

Critics charge that it's Soros (derisively dubbed "the Daddy Warbucks of the Democratic Party") and a troupe of like-minded million- and billionaires who are threatening to unhinge the future of American democracy. Republicans argue that vast sums of money from these rich individuals, pouring into independent organizations in unprecedented amounts thanks to a loophole in campaign-finance laws, will buy them undue influence. "George Soros has purchased the Democratic Party," says Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson. "It makes George Soros very influential, [but] it also makes John Kerry very beholden to him." Democrats counter that they're just taking a page from the Republican handbook, using money not only to stop Bush but to resuscitate the American left. Almost unwittingly, by virtue of his billions, his passion and his name, George Soros has become the one-man vanguard of a movement.

Soros and his peers' weapon of choice: independent political groups known as 527s. Observers estimate that more than $1 billion will be spent on the presidential election campaign this year. More than $300 million of that will come from 527s. While most campaign contributions in the United States are limited by law to $2,000 per person ("hard money"), 527s, named for the part of the tax code that created them, can raise as much money as they want with no limit on how much an individual can give. That kind of unlimited political con-tribution is known as "soft money" in the American system. Political candidates and political parties can take only hard money. With their unlimited funds, 527s buy everything from air time for blistering attack ads to workers to register voters and make sure they get to the polls on Election Day.

This was supposed to be the year that Big Money was driven out of U.S. presidential politics, or at least wrestled into submission. The McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform law of 2002 may have succeeded in drying up the political parties' soft money, but that cash--and more--simply found a new home in the murkier world of 527s. Pushed further away from the parties and into the hands of political operatives bound only by their scruples, the money is even less accountable than before. There are rules, on paper at least. But the job of overseeing the groups is left to the Federal Election Commission, which enforces the law so lightly that the groups know just about anything goes. …

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