george soros
Credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/flickr

The favorite villain of every right-winger is undoubtedly George Soros. If he were responsible for a small fraction of the things he’s been accused of, he’d be the most powerful human being on the planet. One county sheriff even said that Soros “has done more for those who perpetrate crime than Lucifer and his demons combined.”

A few years ago Soros exited from the national political scene in the United States in a move that is reminiscent of Andrew Breitbart’s favorite saying about how “politics is downstream from culture.” The Open Society Foundation, which Soros founded, has preferred to tackle issues at the community level rather than via funding political candidates.

But lately Soros has been politically engaged in a way that directly takes on Donald Trump’s “law and order” presidency. Here is how the ACLU (funded by the Open Society Foundation) defines the problem that confronts us today:

Having been committed to criminal justice reform for quite a while now, Soros isn’t going after the Attorney General directly. Instead, he is supporting candidates for the most powerful position in our criminal justice system: local prosecutors.

Here is how the election of district attorneys usually goes down:

…district attorney races have rarely attracted outside attention, let alone intense interest from voters. Incumbents usually run unopposed, research has found. And when they do face opposition, they usually win, with races focused on the candidates’ character and experience, or controversial cases, rather than discussions of policy.

In addition to providing funds to PACs in support of particular candidates, Soros is funding groups like the ACLU to engage voters in a discussion about policy.

The American Civil Liberties Union, backed by millions in funding from billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, is investing resources and applying organizational muscle in local district attorney races in 2018.

The ACLU is among a variety of organizations working to elect prosecutors willing to jumpstart a laundry list of criminal justice reforms, including an overhaul of the pretrial bail bond system. It received a $50 million grant from Soros’ Open Society Foundations in 2014.

Now, in this year’s elections, the organization is planning voter education and outreach campaigns in district attorney races in California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont and possibly North Carolina and Missouri.

The group hasn’t determined which local races will be targeted, but it will focus on contests in big cities with large jail populations that feed the state prison system, said Taylor Pendergrass, senior campaign strategist for the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice. More than 1,000 local prosecutors are up for election in November, according to the group.

Nick Tabor profiled one of the first prosecutors who benefited from Soros’s support, Scott Colom, whose district covers four counties in the so-called “Black Belt” of Mississippi. He beat a 25-year incumbent by promising to “lock fewer people up, stop treating drug addiction as a crime, and expand rehab services.”

Since getting involved in district attorney races in 2015, Soros has been successful in 10 of the 11 races that his organization has targeted. That includes winning in places like Houston, Chicago, Phoenix, St. Louis, Orlando, Denver, Albuquerque, Philadelphia, and a suburb of Atlanta.

As long as Donald Trump is president and Jeff Sessions is attorney general, criminal justice reform at the national level is not only dead, it is heading back to where we were in the 1970s. But with help from George Soros and organizations like the ACLU, it is alive and well in local jurisdictions. The election of progressive district attorneys is another thing to keep an eye on this November.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.