Austin’s battle over a police staffing ballot measure has a new heavyweight entering the ring: billionaire financier and Democratic Party activist George Soros.
In a bombshell announcement that threatens to shake up the Nov. 2 election, a political action committee opposed to Propostion A — which if passed would require the city to hire hundreds of police officers — says it has accepted a $500,000 donation from Soros.
The 91-year-old Soros, of New York, is known for supporting liberal poltical causes. His net worth is estimated at $8.6 billion, according to Forbes. Soros has made it a recent focus to target elected prosecutors he sees as too punitive on crime. His involvement in the recent Travis County District Attorney’s race helped to lift Jose Garza to victory over incumbent Margaret Moore in 2020.
Soros’ son, Jonathan Soros, also has recently been involved in Austin elections, contributing $25,000 earlier this year to a PAC that tried but failed to move the city to a strong mayor form of government.
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According to finance records published Friday, George Soros transferred the $500,000 to Equity PAC on Monday through his Open Society Policy Center in Washington. That same day, Equity PAC accepted a donation for $200,000 from another reform-minded organization in Washington, the Fairness Project.
Both donations were the product of relationships cultivated by local activists groups affiliated with the PAC, according to campaign treasurer Laura Hernandez.
“This really allows us to talk to voters about the implications and about how important it is that we defeat this measure,” Hernandez said. “We’re thankful for the support.”
Neither donation will be included in the PAC’s full campaign report because they were made after the deadline. That report is expected to be available Monday.
Immediately after news broke of the donations, Save Austin Now — the PAC that got the police staffing measure on the ballot — made its own plea for donations through co-founder Matt Mackowiak.
In a tweet with a link to donate, Mackowiak wrote: “National left wing interests are trying to destroy public safety in Austin. Help us ensure adequate police staffing, increase community policing, double police training and enact sensible police reforms.”
Save Austin Now has had little trouble generating donations. Prior to the May election on the homeless camping ban, the PAC raised $1.9 million — a near record in a citywide election that trailed only an election funded exclusively by Uber and Lyft in 2016.
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Like Equity PAC, Save Austin Now will publish a new fundraising and expenditure report in the coming days.
If approved by voters, the police staffing measure would start with requiring the city to employ two officers per 1,000 residents. A second provision would mandate that 35% of an officer’s shift must be spent on uncommitted time — often referred to as community engagement time — and not responding to calls. To ensure that shifts are staffed adequately, city staffers say even more than two officers per 1,000 residents are needed. The true ratio, they say, is somewhere between 2.1 per 1,000 and 2.5 per 1,000.
Weighing police attrition rates against Austin’s current population and projected growth, the city would need to hire 403 to 885 more officers in the net five years, according to the city’s math. The cost to do that is $271.5 million to $598.8 million, the city says.
To come up with the money, the city could have to cut funding for other departments, some city officials have said. Those could include Austin Fire Department, whose labor union members voted this week to oppose Prop A and spend $15,000 to defeat it.
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