“Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who was handpicked and funded by George Soros, is a disgrace.”
— Trump, in a fundraising appeal, March 31
From the moment it appeared that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg would indict Trump after hearing evidence of his role in hush-money payments to an adult-film star, he has suggested that Bragg is operating at the direction of liberal billionaire George Soros — who he claimed had given more than $1 million to Bragg.
The theme has been picked up by other Republicans, with many House members in tweets calling Bragg “Soros-backed” or “Soros-funded” or even “Soros DA.” Trump’s presumed main rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, referred to “Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney” in his statement saying he would refuse an extradition request. Fox News, which has long focused on Soros’s support for left-wing causes, has repeatedly mentioned Soros’s name in its coverage.
But the intense focus on Soros is misplaced. Soros never directly funded Bragg, but instead contributed to a group that supported Bragg and other liberal candidates seeking to be prosecutors.
Moreover, the repeated mention of Soros plays into antisemitic conspiracy theories that Soros, a Hungarian American Holocaust survivor, is a wealthy puppet-master who works behind the scenes to manipulate elections and further his goals. The Anti-Defamation League found in 2018 that Soros figures in a significant number of antisemitic tweets.
The Trump campaign defended Trump’s focus on Soros. “It’s not antisemitic to point out Soros funded/supported Bragg,” said spokesman Steven Cheung. “What world are you living in?”
Soros has been a boogeyman for conservatives ever since he spent $27 million to oppose President George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004 — much as the vast spending on right-wing causes by the Koch brothers has been a source of consternation for liberals.
Soros supports candidates through occasional direct contributions, but mainly through his Democracy PAC or to groups that support candidates with what are known as independent expenditures, according to Soros spokesman Michael Vachon. Independent expenditures are not coordinated with a campaign but work in support of one, such as through sending mailers or operating phone banks.
Soros has a particular interest in funding efforts to overhaul the U.S. criminal justice system, such as treating drug addiction as a disease, not a crime, ending money bail, and reducing racial inequities in prison sentences. Tom Watson, editorial director at Open Society Foundations, Soros’s grant-making organization, said the group has spent more than $200 million on promoting criminal justice initiatives since formally launching its U.S. program in 1996. Such efforts are vehemently opposed by conservatives, who say they undermine public safety.
Bragg, who in 2021 narrowly won the Democratic primary against a much-better-funded candidate, would be the type of prosecutor favored by Soros. He never made a contribution to Bragg, though New York State election records show Soros’s son and daughter-in-law each contributed a little more than $10,000. Soros’s Democracy PAC also made no contributions to Bragg.
Here’s why Republicans claim that Soros funded Bragg.
Bragg was endorsed on May 8 of that year by the political arm of Color of Change, a progressive criminal justice group. In a statement that highlighted Bragg as the only Black candidate in the race, Color of Change said it planned to spend “over one million dollars” on an independent expenditure campaign for Bragg, such as sending “eight robust waves of direct mail throughout Manhattan in May” and then more direct mail in June highlighting early voting.
On May 14, Soros sent $1 million to Color of Change, federal election records show.
While that appears like careful coordination, both Soros and Color of Change say the two events are unrelated. Color of Change says it makes decisions on whom to endorse without input from its donors.
“As one of the largest Black-led political action committees in the country, Color of Change PAC has many funders who invest in our broad strategy to root out injustice in our criminal legal system,” a spokesperson said. “Independent of these funders, Color of Change PAC runs a review and interview process to endorse reform-minded district attorneys each election cycle.”
Vachon also said there was no understanding between Soros and the PAC that his contribution would go to fund the independent expenditures for Bragg. He noted that between 2016 and 2022, Soros and, separately, Democracy PAC contributed a total of about $4 million to the organization, so a contribution of this size was not unusual.
In any case, Color of Change never met the $1 million goal. Notwithstanding its news release, state election records show that it spent less than half that amount — $420,000 — on independent expenditures for Bragg. That amounted to about 9 percent of the group’s total spending in that election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.
A Bragg adviser said that the candidate raised $2.4 million before the primary, and a total of $3.1 million from 7,500 contributors for the entire election cycle. In the primary, Bragg defeated Tali Farhadian Weinstein, who had funded her campaign with $8.2 million of her own money, by 34.3 percent to 30.7 percent, a difference of just 9,000 votes. In Manhattan, winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to winning the general election.
Whether Color of Change’s money made a difference is open to question. Campaigns prefer direct infusions of money. No coordination is permitted between a campaign and an independent organization, so independent contributions can detract from a campaign’s messaging strategy or target people with direct mail that the campaign has already reached. In other words, Color of Change’s $420,000 cannot necessarily be viewed as adding almost 20 percent to Bragg’s coffers in the primary. It could have been helpful — or it may have been wasted.
In any case, there is no evidence Soros has influence over Bragg.
“George has never met, spoken with or otherwise communicated with Alvin Bragg,” Vachon said. The Bragg adviser confirmed the two men have never met or communicated.
The Pinocchio Test
Republicans are being slippery here. Claiming Soros “funded” Bragg is simply false, but many rely on the more ambiguous phrase of “backed,” which is technically correct by several degrees of separation. But it’s still misleading and worthy of Three Pinocchios.
The incendiary focus on Soros raises more difficult questions. Given the tenuous connection between Soros and Bragg, it’s a dangerous game that plays into stereotypes of rich Jewish financiers secretly controlling events. “Even if unintentional, politicians and pundits repeating these unsubstantiated conspiracies essentially validate the same hateful myths propagated by antisemites,” the ADL warns. “A person who promotes a Soros conspiracy theory may not intend to promulgate antisemitism. But Soros’ Jewish identity is so well-known that in many cases it is hard not to infer that meaning.”
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