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Soros Group Raises Stakes in Battle with US Neo-Cons
Published on Wednesday, January 12, 2005 by the Financial Times/UK
Soros Group Raises Stakes in Battle with US Neo-Cons
by James Harding in Washington

A group of billionaire philanthropists are to donate tens of millions more dollars to develop progressive political ideas in the US in an effort to counter the conservative ascendancy.

George Soros, who made his fortune in the hedge fund industry; Herb and Marion Sandler, the California couple who own a multi-billion-dollar savings and loan business; and Peter Lewis, the chairman of an Ohio insurance company, donated more than $63m (£34m) in the 2004 election cycle to organizations seeking to defeat George W. Bush.

At a meeting in San Francisco last month, the left-leaning billionaires agreed to commit an even larger sum over a longer period to building institutions to foster progressive ideas and people.

Far from being disillusioned by the defeat of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, the billionaires have resolved to invest further in the intellectual future of the left, one person involved said.

Their commitment to provide new money comes amid criticism of the efforts of high-profile donors such as the Hungarian-born Mr Soros to sway US politics as well as doubts about the effectiveness of record funding in helping the Democratic cause in 2004.

The details of the San Francisco meeting are closely held. Mr Soros and his son Jonathan, the Sandlers and Mr Lewis asked aides to leave the room as they discussed the planned financial commitment.

But the still-evolving plan, according to one person involved, is “joint investment to build intellectual infrastructure”.

The intention is to provide the left with organizations in Washington that can match the heft of the rightwing think-tanks such as Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. At a state level, the aim is to build what one person called a “deeper progressive bench”.

The sums involved are the subject of speculation: one person said he had heard a commitment to spend more than $100m over 15 years, another said at least $25m over five years. Several people said their understanding was that the billionaires had decided to spend more, rather than less, than they did in 2004.

Mr Soros donated $27m, the Sandlers $13m and Mr Lewis $23m to so-called 527 groups privately-funded political organizations during the 2004 campaign, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, the campaign finance tracking service.

Stephen Bing, a film producer and heir to a real estate fortune who donated $13m, is also expected to be involved in the investment in progressive infrastructure.

Andrew Stern, who is president of the Service Employees International Union, has been working to include organized labor in the initiative.

Leftwing policy experts have already got wind of the new funds. One former aide to Mr Kerry said there had been talks with the Center for American Progress about making permanent the network of foreign policy experts established by Democrats in the 2004 campaign. He said he had been told: “Money is not a problem.”

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2005


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