A few months ago, George Soros, the billionaire financier and prolific donor to Democratic causes, picked up the phone and called an old friend. Soros was nervous, he told his friend. Nervous from watching Mitt Romney pull even with the presidentÂ in national pollsÂ and in polls of battleground states likeÂ OhioÂ andÂ Florida. Nervous from seeing Republican super-PACs amass tens of millions of dollars with which to pound Obama on the airwaves. Soros was slowly coming around to the fact that Romney could win.
Soros had unexpected news for his friend. Until that point he’d conspicuously remained on the sidelines in the super-PAC bonanza. Now he wanted in.
Soros said he’d give a sizable sum to Priorities USA Action, the super-PAC supporting Obama. He would also urge his rich friends to do the same. “I was really dumbfounded when I heard his voice on the other end of the phone,” says Soros’ friend, who asked to remain anonymous. “He was the last person I ever expected to hear from, given how antithetical he was to the big money slopping around the system. But he said that he was panicked about the fact that Romney could win this.”
As theÂ New York TimesÂ reported, Soros’ longtime adviser Michael Vachon announced on Thursday at a gathering of wealthy Democratic donors that Soros will give $1 million to Priorities.Â Soros also plans to give $500,000 to two super-PACs devoted to electing Democrats to the House and the Senate. And the rich donors at Thursday’s Manhattan luncheon, members of the exclusive Democracy Alliance donor group, are expected to cough up at least $10 million more to Democratic super-PACs.
That kind of money doesn’t come easy. As any Democratic fundraiser will tell you, raising money for a super-PAC is hard workâ€”even for George Soros, it turns out. “He made a point of telling me how difficult it was raising money,” the friend says. “He started making calls and found out it was harder than he expected.”
Soros’ support for Priorities marks quite a turnaround. He generally opposes super-PACs, and prefers giving his money to established organizations committed to growing the progressive movement, say people familiar with Soros’ thinking. Soros had not figured prominently in the 2012 outside-money wars as some expected, though this spring heÂ gaveÂ $1 million to American Bridge 21st Century, a super-PAC that specializes in opposition research of GOP politicos. That said, even with his new Priorities commitment, Soros is nowhere close to matching the $24 million he gave to outside Democratic groups during the 2004 election season. (At the time, Republicans claimedÂ Soros “had purchased the Democratic Party.”) And his 2012 largesse pales in comparison to the $70 million to $100 million the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has pledged to defeat Obama and elect Republicans to the House and Senate. (Full disclosure: The Open Society Foundations, chaired by Soros, have supportedÂ Mother Jones‘ campaign finance reporting.)
According to theÂ Times, Soros told fellow Democratic donors in an email that he’d refrained from giving to super-PACs until now out of opposition to the Supreme Court’s 2010Â Citizens UnitedÂ decision, which helped give rise to super-PACs. But Soros said he was “appalled by the Romney campaign, which is openly soliciting the money of the rich to starve the state of the money it needs to provide social services.” And just to be clear, he stressed in the email: “I fully support the re-election of President Obama.”
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