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Soros to help democrats
The Hill
September 22, 2005

Billionaire financier George Soros hosted a fundraiser for Senate Democrats last week at his Manhattan home, making his first foray into politics after spending $25 million of his money in an effort to defeat President Bush last year.

Soros gathered about 60 of his friends and acquaintances in his Upper East Side home Thursday to hear a presentation from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to a knowledgeable source. The event raised an estimated $250,000 for Senate Democratic candidates.

The hot topics of conversation among the assembled guests were the war in Iraq and the Senate confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts.

Until last week, Soros had kept his distance from Democratic fundraising circles since Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) loss to Bush last November. And Soros let it be known that he would not again donate to America Coming Together (ACT), the 527 soft-money group that mobilized swing-state voters for Democrats.

Already this election cycle, various liberal political groups have been vying for access to Soros's deep pockets. But before the DSCC event, Soros had not opened his wallet to any of them.

"He's looking at a lot of different proposals,' said Michael Vachon, Soros's spokesman, who confirmed that the fundraiser took place. He said Soros held a fundraiser for Senate Democrats in the 2004 election cycle as well.

But Soros has not held fundraisers this year for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and does not have any immediate plans to do so, said officials with both committees. That makes last week's event something of a coup for Schumer, who is known for his aggressive fundraising tactics.

"Chuck Schumer probably kept calling him until he couldn't say no,' a Democratic supporter said.

Under Schumer's leadership, the Senate Democratic fundraising committee has outraised its Republican partner during the first six months of this year, shocking many political observers.

The DSCC has kept a tight lid on Soros's participation in its effort to amass a large campaign war chest and take back control of the Senate. Schumer declined to discuss the fundraiser or even confirm that it took place, saying that the DSCC has a policy of not discussing the committee's fundraising practices. "We just don't,' Schumer said flatly when asked about the policy.

So far this election cycle, that policy has helped Senate Democrats avoid the controversy that Soros routinely attracts. But Republicans seized on the Soros link when told he had held a fundraiser for the DSCC.

"I think it is shocking that Democrats would treat him as a mainstream force of Democratic politics,' said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). "He has an agenda that transcends American interests.'

Soros is known for making provocative statements and is often associated with hot-button issues that most politicians would rather avoid, such as drug decriminalization, assisted suicide and voting rights for felons. Soros, for instance, has helped fund numerous initiatives that would soften criminal penalties for drug use.

"I believe that a drug-free America is a utopian dream. Some form of drug addiction or substance abuse is endemic in most societies,' Soros wrote in a 1997 Washington Post op-ed. "Insisting on the total eradication of drug use can only lead to failure and disappointment.'

As soon as Republican Party officials heard about the DSCC fundraiser, they attempted to link Senate Democrats to Soros's controversial positions.

"Mainstream Democrats would probably be disturbed to learn that their party leaders are taking their cues from a man who wants to make heroin a prescription drug,' said Tracy Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Republicans and conservatives have made greater efforts in recent months to highlight ties between the Democratic Party and liberal interest groups. More than 40 conservatives signed a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) yesterday asking that Specter order the release of unpublished Democratic memos detailing contact between Judiciary Committee Democrats and liberal groups. The memos are in the possession of Senate Sergeant at Arms Bill Pickle, who confiscated them during the 108th Congress while investigating the unauthorized publication of several sensitive Democratic documents.

Earlier this year, Mark Stephens, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, attacked those links in a mass mailing to Republican supporters.

"The George Soros/Howard Dean/Michael Moore/MoveOn.org element of the Democratic Party has taken an increasingly prominent role in determining the legislative strategy and political rhetoric of the Democrat leadership in the U.S. Senate and House,' he wrote.

But despite the controversy, Soros remains an important player in progressive circles by virtue of his vast fortune, estimated at nearly $7 billion.

Soros is also a member of the Democracy Alliance, a new partnership among more than 80 wealthy liberals who have pledged to fund a network of progressive think tanks and advocacy groups.

During the last election, Soros was one of the main funders of ACT, a group, that along with its counterpart the Media Fund raised nearly $200 million dollars. But ACT's efforts came up short, and the group has subsequently become the target of Democratic criticism.

"ACT didn't focus on rural areas,' a Democratic operative said. "It totally [messed] up by not speaking to the rural area of Ohio.' Bush won the 2004 election by carrying Ohio by 2 percent of the vote.

The liberal organizations that Soros and other wealthy members of the Democracy Alliance decide to support no doubt will become the heavyweights of Democratic national politics in 2006, 2008 and perhaps beyond.

The DNC may soon also benefit from Soros's fortune and connections. A DNC official said that Howard Dean, the DNC chairman, has a good relationship with Soros, dating from the 2004 campaign, and that Soros is supportive of DNC goals.

Two quick points; politics is about money and a message. The money is coming in thanks to Dean and Schumer. Now they need a message.