George Soros, the billionaire investor who bankrolled Democratic groups during George W. Bush’s presidency and then indicated in 2010 that his giving days were over, is back.
He just isn’t giving to the political action committee working to re-elect President Barack Obama.
Soros is joined by million-dollar donors such as film producer Stephen Bing and auto insurer Peter Lewis in not contributing to Priorities USA, a group founded by former White House aides to help return Obama to the White House. The pro-Obama organization raised $1.2 million in the second half of 2011, bringing its yearly total to $4.4 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
In 2011, Soros gave $75,000 to the House Majority PAC, dedicated to returning the House to Democratic control, and $100,000 to Majority PAC, an organization working to keep the Senate in Democratic hands, according to the FEC reports.
“Most of the major progressive donors, such as Soros and Bing, if they do give, are going to give to the committees that have been established to recapture the Congress,” said Anthony Corrado, a political scientist at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. “There’s a general sense, among the big progressive donors, that the Obama campaign will be well-funded and where the money is really needed is on Capitol Hill.”
While Soros’s 2011 congressional contributions are small compared with the more than $30 million that he gave in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 election cycles, Democrats say they want him to do more, to counter so-called super-PACs formed by Karl Rove and other Republicans.
House and Senate
“Given that our prospects in House and Senate races are looking increasingly better, some in the Democratic community certainly hope that donors like Soros and Bing come off the sidelines so that our candidates have the resources needed to match the GOP and their super-PACs,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist.
Soros has expressed ambivalence about a second term for Obama and said in a Reuters interview in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 25 that he was “not the only one who has been slightly disappointed” in Obama, while noting that “I continue to support him.”
If the 2012 contest were between Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Soros said that “there isn’t that much difference, except for the crowd that they bring with him.”
Michael Vachon, a spokesman for Soros, said that the Hungarian-born financier has recently traveled to Myanmar, has been working with emerging democracies in Africa and has not been concentrating on the U.S. election.
“Soros’s focus has been on the crisis in Europe and no decisions have been made on 2012,” he said. “He has not been focused on U.S. politics.”
In 2004, Soros gave $23.7 million to Democratic groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. For the 2006 election, he contributed $3.5 million to organizations working to elect Democrats. Two years later, he donated a total of $5 million, according to the non-profit group that tracks campaign finances. Then in 2010, he indicated that he was done with seven-figure political giving, calling his 2004 activism an “exception.”
Struggling to keep pace with American Crossroads, formed by Karl Rove, and Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire David Koch, the five main Democratic super-PACs have been working together to court donors who are willing to write seven-figure checks. Super-PACs are allowed to raise unlimited funds from individuals, corporations and unions.
Any sharing arrangement reached by those Democratic groups, and the bigger checks they want to collect, might not appear in the 2011 disclosure reports, which don’t capture fundraising in January. Bill Burton, a former White House spokesman, who founded Priorities USA with Sean Sweeney, a former political adviser at the White House, said that they weren’t concerned about signing up specific donors like Soros.
“It’s not about any one particular individual,” he said. “It’s about a community of Democrats who see a threat of outside money and want to get involved and make sure the President isn’t without a response.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has benefitted from $10 million in donations from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, according to a person close to him.
Bing, who gave $13 million in 2004 to Democratic committees, contributed $250,000 to Majority PAC and $150,000 to American Bridge 21st Century, a group that fact-checks Republican and conservative claims, according to FEC reports and the Center for Responsive Politics.
Peter Lewis, who contributed $23 million in 2004 to defeat President George W. Bush, gave $200,000 to American Bridge in 2011
Obama’s presidential campaign has out-raised his Republican challengers in total donations and cash on hand. In 2011, Obama for America raised $128 million and ended the year with $81.8 million in cash.
Romney raised $57 million last year, more than any of his Republican presidential rivals, and entered the primary season with $20 million to spend.
Burton’s group, along with the other Democratic committees, are essentially media funds will be ready to make large commercial buys as soon as the donations arrive, said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a Washington-based advocacy group formerly called the New Democrat Network. Democratic donors, after assessing the impact of the outside groups in Republican contest, will soon start to donate, he said.
“The success of Romney’s super-PAC in wounding Gingrich will force reluctant Democrats to get off the sideline and spend more money on these outside groups in 2012 than they were anticipating,” Rosenberg said.