Billionaire George Soros, with a check for $1.45 million last week, upended the money race in the Democratic primary campaign for district attorney in Philadelphia.
On April 28, Soros poured that cash into Philadelphia Justice and Public Safety, an independent political action committee running television ads in support of civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner, according to a campaign finance report filed Friday.
That PAC spent $497,456 of the money in the first two days after it registered in Philadelphia on April 25. It paid for TV commercials, campaign literature, and online ads, and for people to canvass the city’s neighborhoods, seeking support for Krasner.
It spent $222,505 more on Tuesday and Wednesday for more television airtime and literature to be mailed to voters, other reports show.
And the PAC reported owing $42,585 to a related nonprofit group, registered April 22 with the IRS, for polling and research.
The Soros funding significantly surpasses what Krasner and the other six Democrats in the May 16 primary election for district attorney had been able to raise.
And it fits a pattern that Soros started in 2015, when he began investing heavily in races for district attorney and sheriff across the country. A Soros spokesman told the Associated Press in November that he had spent $9.6 million to back candidates in those types of races because of his interest in law enforcement issues, including abolishing the death penalty.
Krasner, who has never worked as a prosecutor, has been the most vocal opponent of the death penalty in the primary campaign.
A second independent PAC, Building a Better Pennsylvania Fund, is backing former Assistant District Attorney Jack O’Neill in the race. That PAC, founded in 2014 by Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other building trades unions, reported $255,724 in the bank at the beginning of 2017.
The PAC spent $144,340 in the last week to create and air a TV commercial and run newspaper ads, according to campaign finance reports filed Wednesday and Friday.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, predicted that Soros' money will have a serious impact, in part because the candidates have agreed on many key issues, like reforming the cash bail system, decriminalization of small amounts of drugs, treatment over prosecution for drug addiction, and reentry programs for inmates being released from prisons.
"The whole campaign has sort of drifted leftward, with the emphasis on justice reform," Madonna said. "It seems like three or four of these candidates are essentially interchangeable and Soros has picked one of them."
A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows independent PACs to spend unlimited funds, exceeding the city’s campaign finance limits for this race of $6,000 for individuals and $23,800 for political action committees, as long as they do not coordinate efforts with candidates or campaigns.
This would not be the first time an independent PAC overwhelmed candidate fund-raising in a Philadelphia campaign.
Mayor Kenney and his closest rival, State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, each raised more than $1.3 million to compete in the 2015 Democratic primary election for mayor.
A PAC supporting Williams, American Cities, raised $6.8 million – more than all six Democrats running in that primary combined.
Building a Better Pennsylvania Fund, which backed Kenney, raised almost $1.5 million.