By Corinne Murdock |
One of the kingpins of Democratic dark money, 91-year-old George Soros (92 on Friday), lingers still behind the scenes of Arizona’s elections. His millions, traceable effectively wherever a Democratic candidate arises, may define the upcoming Maricopa County Attorney election. One of Soros’ main objectives is to grow his network of progressive prosecutors.
Soros made his mark in Arizona known through the 2016 elections. He was the primary financier of the Maricopa Strong PAC, spending over $2.3 million to defeat Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (a success). Soros was also the primary financier of the Arizona Safety and Justice PAC, spending $1 million in the Maricopa County attorney’s race to defeat then-incumbent Bill Montgomery (a failure).
After 2016, Soros’ personal spending in criminal justice-related races appeared to cease entirely. The contentious 2020 election came and went without word of Soros’ millions flooding county races. Yet, Soros assured the country in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal last month that he remains committed to his goal of establishing liberal, reform-oriented prosecutors nationwide.
Soros may have rejected the media attention for his direct financing, and opted to direct his funds through less overt channels: political action committees (PACs) entrusted to pass on the cash to his desired candidates.
Soros candidates are identifiable by the following criminal justice reform goals: bail abolition, reduced incarceration numbers, mental health response services (as opposed to police), diversion programs in lieu of trial, mental health and drug courts as alternatives to criminal courts,
Those who share a similar vision for criminal justice reform are Julie Gunnigle, Democratic candidate for Maricopa County Attorney, as well as Laura Conover, current Pima County Attorney.
Gunnigle pledged to expunge marijuana-related criminal records, reduce incarceration rates, end cash bail, oppose the death penalty, fight elongated sentences for gang and weapons-related charges, establish mental health response services, and avoid prosecution for abortion offenses. Gunnigle, who earned over 312,000 votes in the primary, faces off against incumbent Rachel Mitchell, who earned over 235,000 votes (beating Republican challenger Gina Godbehere, who earned over 175,000 votes).
Out of the latest PAC donations reported, Gunnigle received over $6,500 from Way to Lead Arizona. That PAC received $100,000 from Soros’ Democracy PAC last year, though it’s primarily funded by its national counterpart: Way to Lead PAC. That PAC has received millions combined from Soros, his family, or the organizations he either funds or founded, according to Federal Election Contribution (FEC) campaign finance records.
Gunnigle has denied that she benefited from Soros funding.
During her 2020 run for the county attorney’s office, Gunnigle received $12,900 from the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona (PPAZ) PAC, nearly $10,900 from Arizona List PAC, and over $6,000 from Emily’s List PAC.
The SOS database reflects that PPAZ’s biggest donors are private individuals donating over tens of thousands of dollars each. However, PPAZ’s SOS profile doesn’t reflect their receipt of over $9,100 from Planned Parenthood Votes that year, who in turn received $2.5 million from September 2019 to August 2020 from Soros’ Democracy PAC according to FEC records.
Arizona List PAC received $2,500 from Arizona Wins that year, who received $350,000 from Soros’ Democracy PAC in June 2020. Arizona Wins has given tens of thousands to Arizona List since launching in 2008. Arizona List PAC has also received $6,000 every year, including this year, from Emily’s List PAC. Soros’ Democracy PAC gave Emily’s List a $1 million nonfederal contribution in early 2020.
Since 2020, the Soros-funded Emily’s List has given $525,000 to the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (ADLCC), a project of the Arizona Democratic Party co-founded by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. This year so far, they’ve given $50,000 to the ADLCC.
Arizona Wins — who appears under several different profiles with variations of its name on the SOS database, such as “Arizona Wins!” and “Arizona Wins/One Arizona” — has received money from and sent money to Soros’ affiliated or founded organizations apart from Democracy PAC. This includes just under $100,000 given to Forward Majority Action Arizona, whose primary funder is its national arm, Forward Majority Action. Soros’ Sixteen Thirty Fund issued millions to Forward Majority Action throughout 2020, with an additional individual contribution of $200,000 from Soros’ eldest son, Robert.
Arizona Wins’ former program manager, Josselyn Berry, went on to become the executive director of a PAC that received $650,000 from Soros’ Democracy PAC in 2020: ProgressNow Arizona (sometimes listed as Progress Now Arizona). Berry, formerly the Arizona State Senate Democratic Caucus Communications Director, also serves as a staffer for the Arizona Democratic Party. Arizona Wins and Progress Now Arizona both listed the same address for campaign finance reports.
ProgressNow Arizona also received $25,000 from the Future Now Fund in 2020, whose Arizona arm has received thousands over the years from Soros’ daughter-in-law, Jennifer, and submitted about $509,800 to the Arizona Democratic Party in 2020.
Pima County’s attorney, Laura Conover, has pledged to advance criminal justice reform initiatives that align with Soros’ vision. Her campaign received funding from some of the same sources as Gunnigle.
Last December, Conover pledged to not charge individuals arrested for simple drug possession in order to avoid jail crowding. Most recently, Conover pledged to not give jail time to individuals who seek or assist with abortions. Among her goals: cease prosecutions for the “poor, sick, and addicted,” through efforts like abolishing cash bail and limiting deportations.
In response to a constituent complaint on Facebook in 2020, Conover neither confirmed nor denied that she benefited from Soros funding.
“You may review my financials at your leisure. Bipartisan. Transparent. Sorry to disappoint,” wrote Conover’s campaign page.
According to the secretary of state’s (SOS) campaign finance records, the PPAZ PAC paid $12,900 to Conover’s campaign in July 2020. Conover’s campaign also received over $7,300 from the Arizona List PAC in 2020.
Soros’ money bleeds into other aspects of Arizona’s legal world. Incidentally, traces of his financial support touched the 2020 interests of newly-confirmed Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judge: the accomplished, favorite Arizona attorney of the Democratic Party, Roopali Desai.
The funds benefited other left-wing criminal reform agendas in Arizona through Arizonans for Second Chances, Rehabilitation, And Public Safety: another PAC backed by Soros money, in addition to Big Tech’s Mark Zuckerberg. From June to September of 2020, the PAC received nearly $256,700 from the Alliance for Safety and Justice Action Fund, a project of Soros’ Tides Advocacy.
The PAC also received about $552,600 from Fwd.Us, Zuckerberg’s pro-immigration lobbying group co-founded with liberal megadonor Joe Green. Fwd.Us made headlines in late 2021 for bankrolling “farm teams” that produced at least five members of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy team.
From June to August 2020, the PAC paid out about $380,300 to the Coppersmith Brockelman law firm, where Desai has been a longtime partner. They also paid out over $3.3 million to AZ Petition Partners (dba Petition Partners): a signature-collecting company charged in November 2020 by the Arizona Attorney General’s office for illegal bonus programs. Desai is serving as one of the attorneys for the company’s appeal case.
That company also received $1.25 million from “Smart And Safe Arizona,” the PAC behind the eponymous ballot initiative, Prop 207, which successfully legalized recreational weed in the state. Desai authored Prop 207’s language. Desai also provided legal services for Prop 208, Invest in Education, whose eponymous PAC rallying for an additional income tax to increase teacher funding paid at least $150,000 to Petition Partners.