George Soros vs
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
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
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
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
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."