Self-styled progressive political activists who win election as district attorneys with financial support from wealthy donors have made “social justice” initiatives more important than public safety, legal analysts say.
George Soros, the Hungarian American billionaire investor, stands out as the big donor behind a super PAC that helped elect district attorneys who have overseen a dramatic increase in crime.
The Justice and Public Safety super PAC feeds into a larger network of local political action committees. Some of the district attorneys elected with its support have attracted media attention for their antipathy toward law enforcement.
“I refuse to call them progressives,” Charles “Cully” Stimson, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said in an interview with The Daily Signal, adding: “There’s nothing progressive about what they’re doing.”
In July, Fox News reported on St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who benefited during her 2016 campaign from advertising funded through Justice and Public Safety in her 2016 campaign.
Conservatives criticized Gardner for announcing her intention to pursue felony charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who stood outside their St. Louis home with firearms in June as Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched past after breaking through a gate.
A grand jury indicted the McCloskeys on weapons and evidence-tampering charges Oct. 6, USA Today and other outlets reported.
Gardner, a Democrat who previously was a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, assumed office as circuit attorney in January 2017. She reportedly benefited from more than $190,000 in contributions from the Missouri Justice and Public Safety PAC.
The Daily Signal left a voicemail seeking comment from Gardner’s office, but had not received a response by publication time.
The Soros-backed effort to alter America’s established criminal justice system by investing in local district attorneys appears to have been in motion for at least five years, according to Capital Research Center, a Washington-based group that traces how foundations and charities spend their money.
Over those years, Soros has spent more than $17 million on district attorney races, among other local races, in states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona, California, and New York.
As The Daily Signal previously reported, Soros has helped to elect progressive prosecutors not only in major metropolitan areas, but also in the suburbs.
In contrast to conventional political action committees, Justice and Public Safety and other super PACs may absorb unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals such as Soros and then spend the money to advocate or oppose political candidates. Unlike conventional political action committees, super PACs are not allowed to make direct donations to candidates.
But as Shane Devine, an investigator with Capital Research Center, explains in a recent article, the “huge contributions” put into circulation by Soros through his PAC “makes it almost impossible for other candidates to compete because district attorney elections are on such a small scale.”
And, Devine wrote, the campaigns that get such PAC money typically “do not need to raise millions to run local ads and mobilize voters.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat, benefited from about $1.7 million spent by the Soros-backed Philadelphia Justice and Public Safety PAC during the 2017 campaign.
Since Krasner took office in January 2018, aggravated assault with a firearm increased by 18%, and, in one year, violent crime overall rose 5% and robberies climbed by 7%, according to a report in June from the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit based in Alexandria, Virginia.
Krasner ran on a platform of reducing incarceration and dramatically reforming the criminal justice system. He gained attention for providing legal representation to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has a central organization called the Black Lives Global Network Foundation and includes dozens of chapters in the U.S. and Canada.
‘Violent Crime Out of Control’
The May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer during his arrest in Minneapolis led to large protests and even riots across the country.
>>> Related: A Deeper Look at Black Lives Matter and its Impact
The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund compiled figures for its report, titled “Prosecutorial Malpractice: Progressive Prosecutors, Public Safety, and Felony Outcomes,” that the organization says show “dozens of experienced frontline prosecutors have been fired or resigned under Krasner’s watch.”
This is not a trend unique to Philadelphia’s district attorney. The Washington Times reported that “Soros-backed DAs” also fired “experienced prosecutors” in St. Louis and San Francisco.
What is the result of Krasner’s follow-through on his campaign commitments to alter criminal justice practices?
“Violent crime in Philadelphia is out of control,” Jason Johnson, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, told The Daily Signal in an email:
It has been steadily increasing since Larry Krasner took office. His policies contribute to an atmosphere in which criminals are empowered and police are disempowered. Our study has shown that increases in crime in Philly have been coupled with a decrease in convictions and increase in lost or dropped cases by Mr. Krasner’s office.
Tragically, his pro-criminal policies also contributed to the murder of [a] veteran Philadelphia police officer, Cpl. James O’Connor. It’s high time that voters take notice of the destruction happening in our cities, including Philadelphia. This destruction is being driven by weak-on-crime policies of Larry Krasner and others of his ilk.
The Daily Signal emailed an associate of Soros seeking comment from the financier or anyone in his organization about rising crime rates in jurisdictions where the Soros PAC helped elect district attorneys. The Soros associate did not respond by publication time.
Links to Notorious Cop-Killer
Johnson joined The Heritage Foundation’s “Heritage Explains” podcast Oct. 2 to discuss his organization’s report and its major conclusions after profiling six district attorneys in Philadelphia; Dallas County, Texas; Baltimore; Bexar County, Texas; Cook County, Illinois; and St. Louis.
On Philadelphia, the report goes into some detail about the O’Connor case and Krasner’s decision to release a “repeat felon” who was arrested and charged in 2017 with illegally possessing a firearm and again in 2018 for possessing and distributing cocaine.
The felon, 21-year-old Hassan Elliott, became a fugitive until being charged with fatally shooting O’Connor in March in Philadelphia as the officer sought to arrest Elliott on a warrant for homicide.
“Krasner has gone further than most in promoting diversion and leniency for petty offenders, [and] he has actively promoted the appeal of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal,” the Law Enforcement and Legal Defense Fund report says.
Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in1981.
“The state supreme court has intervened to ascertain what conflicts exist in Krasner’s office, which employs former defense attorneys affiliated with Abu-Jamal,” the report says.
The Daily Signal sought comment from Krasner’s press office but a representative did not respond by publication time.
The report by the Law Enforcement and Legal Defense Fund includes a chart showing that guilty verdicts or pleas for all felonies—including robbery, aggravated assault, auto theft, drug distribution, and illegal firearm possession—declined under Krasner. The chart also shows how dropped, lost, or diverted cases have been on the rise since he took office.
In a forward to the report, Edwin Meese, a former U.S. attorney general who is a distinguished fellow emeritus with The Heritage Foundation, calls attention to “a cadre of well-financed activist prosecutors” who are undermining progress made toward reducing crime in the past few decades.
Meese, a board member of the Law Enforcement and Legal Defense Fund, warns that failure to prosecute serious crime jeopardizes public safety and the rule of law:
This study should serve as a wake-up call to our elected leaders, law enforcement officers, and the media that leftist ideas of social justice and true criminal justice are not compatible.
The duty of every prosecutor is to serve the public’s interest, not their own. Ideological crusades have no place in the court of law, and criminal conduct cannot be sanctioned on personal whims.
Stimson, whose legal work at Heritage focuses on homeland security and crime control, said he advises the conservative movement to “avoid using the language of the left” in calling out district attorneys who fail to hold criminals accountable.
“I refuse to call them progressives,” Stimson told The Daily Signal, adding:
Law and order prosecutors have been progressive for decades. We have explored and created alternatives to incarceration for decades. We created drug courts, we created domestic violence courts. We created diversionary programs across the country. Nobody goes to jail for possession of marijuana. The data is clear despite the rogue prosecutors’ assertions to the contrary. There’s nothing progressive about what they’re doing.
They use language that is poll tested. They use terms like ‘reimaging policing’ and ‘reimagining prosecution.’ Well, what they really mean is usurping the power of the legislature. They imagine eliminating prosecutors and replacing them with criminal defense lawyers. That’s what they’re actually doing.
Other recently elected district attorneys who have benefited from Soros’ funding include Jack Stollsteimer, the district attorney for Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
Last November, Stollsteimer became the first Democrat ever elected to the position. Campaign finance records show that Soros donated about $1 million to the Pennsylvania Justice and Public Safety PAC during the 2019 election cycle.
The PAC spent about $165,000 in support of Stollsteimer and returned the remaining $815,000 to Soros, according to campaign filings with the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Targeting Races in 9 States
Soros has spent money either directly or indirectly on district attorney campaigns in nine states: Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, California, and Texas.
In San Francisco, for instance, District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who assumed office in January, was not the beneficiary of direct contributions from Soros PACs. But, as The Washington Times reported, he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors associated with Soros.
So far in 2020, campaign finance records show the Justice and Public Safety PAC has raised and spent more than $2 million in the 2020 election cycle.
State-level PACs use variations of the name such as Texas Justice and Public Safety, Philadelphia Public and Safety, Arizona Safety and Justice, and Missouri Justice and Public Safety PAC. A list of Soros-backed local and state PACs is available here.
Soros, a well-known financier of progressive causes, is also founder and chairman of Open Society Foundations, an international grantmaking institution based in New York. In 2018, Open Society had revenues of $376 million, expenditures of $215 million, and assets approaching $4 billion, according to Influence Watch.
Back in Philadelphia, a group of retired police officers works to level the playing field between Soros and candidates who support traditional law and order. The Protect Our Police PAC, which started up in June, reportedly has raised about $750,000.
In Oregon, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt released data Wednesday showing that more than 540 cases related to “mass demonstrations” have been dismissed since May “in the interest of justice.”
Multnomah County includes Portland, which has been rocked by unrest for more than four months. Schmidt, elected in May, announced upon assuming office in August that he would be lenient in “protest-related cases.”
Soros doesn’t appear to have been as invested in that race as he was in others, but the Oregonian reported that Schmidt received more than $26,000 from the Safety & Justice PAC.
‘Mass Criminal’ Problem
Heritage’s Stimson said he recommends shedding more “sunlight” on the actions of “rogue district attorneys” who aren’t protecting the public from hardened criminals, and also pushing back on arguments against law enforcement that don’t hold up under scrutiny.
“We don’t have a ‘mass incarceration’ problem,” Stimson said. “We have a ‘mass criminal’ problem.”
“Most criminals never get caught, and with criminals that do get caught, very few of them go to jail,” he said. “The ones that do go to jail deserve it, and many of them don’t serve very long sentences.”
“So, we don’t have a mass incarceration problem. It is a myth.”