Top cops duking it out with progressive district attorney candidates in the June primary are facing another opponent: the deep pockets of George Soros.
The liberal New York billionaire and progressive organizations are throwing big money to challengers in Alameda, Sacramento and San Diego counties, according to campaign finance records.
District attorney races typically have favored law-and-order incumbents with support from local law enforcement and, in some cases, because they faced no legitimate opponent. But the millions spent leading up to the June 5 election is giving a voice to candidates who want to reduce incarceration, end the death penalty and crack down on police misconduct.
“There’s definitely a change at work,” said Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “The mere fact that there’s any kind of legitimate person running suddenly gets people to think: ‘For the first time, I actually get to vote for the DA.’ ”
The new political strategy in California is backed by the California Justice & Public Safety PAC, which is funded by Soros; Real Justice, a political action committee that includes the wife of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz; and civil rights leader and writer Shaun King, who has offered endorsements and speeches.
In Contra Costa, a political action committee tied to Soros has given more than $100,000 to a committee supporting appointed District Attorney Diana Becton, drawing criticism from the campaign of her opponent, career prosecutor Paul Graves.
In Alameda County, the Soros-backed California Justice & Public Safety PAC as of Thursday had spent more than $550,000 in support of Pamela Price, a longtime civil rights attorney attempting to unseat District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. Money has gone toward digital advertising and campaign mailers, according to campaign finance records.
For O’Malley, the hand-picked successor of Tom Orloff after he unexpectedly retired in 2009, it’s her first true test. Price has criticized O’Malley for not being tough on police misconduct and called out her campaign for accepting $10,000 from the Fremont police union while her office investigated officers of that department involved in two fatal shootings.
One recent police mailer paid for by the Soros-backed political action committee attacked O’Malley for not investigating Oakland police involved in the Hernan Jaramillo case. In 2013, the sister of 51-year-old Jaramillo called police and said she believed an intruder was in their home. When officers arrived, they found Jaramillo, who was cuffed after allegedly resisting them and died during a struggle.
“An innocent man was killed by police. And Nancy O’Malley never investigated,” the flier reads.
Price, meanwhile, has drawn criticism for saying she would not prosecute DUIs, domestic abuse and other misdemeanor offenses, though she recently walked back those statements. Price, a longtime civil rights attorney who spent 15 months as a defense attorney, told this news agency last month she “never wanted to be a prosecutor” and “I don’t think that’s what the people of Alameda County are looking for.” She did not return a call for comment.
Tom Clifford, an O’Malley campaign consultant, said the out-of-state support and attacks are surprising. Clifford said the district attorney supports liberal and progressive causes and has endorsements from two key Democrats, Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris.
“I think Alameda County voters should decide for themselves based on experience and based on track record,” Clifford said. “Nancy’s experience and track record are unparalleled.”
Political observers say this recent phenomenon can be traced to the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2017 election victory of defense attorney Larry Krasner as district attorney of Philadelphia. Krasner, who received nearly $2 million from Soros, ousted 31 prosecutors once he took office. On Thursday, Krasner hosted a campaign fundraising breakfast for Price in downtown Oakland.
“With all the violence that’s happening involving police officers, it’s clear the public is frustrated by the lack of accountability,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, an organizer with Oakland-based Initiate Justice. “District attorneys have been identified as a core piece of this puzzle” to reform the criminal justice system.
Elsewhere, Soros has spent about $400,000 on deputy prosecutor Noah Phillips, who is challenging Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. The wave of reform candidates has also hit San Diego, where Public Defender Genevieve Jones-Wright is challenging Interim District Attorney Summer Stephan.
Conservative Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, questioned the large donations.
“Soros is definitely trying to push a political view,” he said. “As far as the candidates themselves go, it’s not unusual to find somebody who wants to move up to a higher office. Whether they are suited for the office is another question.”
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