Soros and critics have their say

By DAVID DEGENNARO  |  Oct. 28, 2004 at 6:52 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Billionaire philanthropist-turned-political-activist George Soros denounced President Bush Thursday only an hour after a group filed a complaint against Soros with the Federal Elections Committee.

In remarks largely the same as those he offered in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Minnesota, Soros urged people in the United States to vote for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., next week.

"The invasion of Iraq was a colossal blunder," Soros said, "and only by rejecting President Bush at the polls can we hope to escape from the quagmire in which we find ourselves."

With the clear goal of persuading swing-state voters, Soros argued that Bush has led the United States into a misguided war on terror that has only served to make the country less secure, and that the president is too inflexible to admit mistakes or change course.

The National Legal and Policy Center, meanwhile, filed a complaint with the FEC claiming that Soros' 12-city tour constitutes illegal campaign activity and that Soros has not fully disclosed the resulting expenditures.

At a news conference announcing the complaint, Peter Flaherty, the center's president, said Soros is a hypocrite for lobbying on behalf of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform laws and then finding his way around them with his tour. He said Soros has violated the spirit of the law he helped get passed.

Flaherty emphasized that the complaints are real, saying, "We don't make accusations wildly, and we don't shoot blanks, usually."

A Soros representative interrupted the conference to say that the complaint is baseless and that Soros is acting within his rights as an individual speaking on issues that concern him.

Another interruption surprised guests attending the Soros luncheon before his address. A protester made his way to the front podium while loudly questioning and criticizing the Hungarian-born financier before security guards removed him from the room. The security guards notified police and there was no further disturbance.

Soros has made headlines and enemies over the last 18 months for his attacks on the president and for donating more than $26 million in this election cycle to Democratic candidates and anti-Bush organizations such as America Coming Together and MoveOn.org.

His giving has some people calling him the "Daddy Warbucks" of the Democratic Party.

Flaherty and the NLPC established a "Soros Truth Squad" that followed Soros on his tour and had coinciding news conferences such as Thursday's to counter some of Soros' his claims.

In responding to a question about the group's complaints following his speech, Soros called it "the shady group" supported by the "genuinely shady billionaire" Richard Scaife, who makes large annual contributions to the center.

"I'm anything but shady," he said, because he stands up for issues that are important to him without hiding behind another group. "I'm really proud of what I've done."

What he has done is finance the efforts of Democratic groups so that they can register voters and air television and radio ads attacking the president and promoting Kerry. Over the last 15 months Soros has donated about $5 million to MoveOn.org, $7.5 million to America Coming Together and more than $12 million to Joint Victory Campaign 2004. He has also taken out full-page ads in newspapers across the country in an effort to reach voters.

The backlash has been severe, with critics challenging that he is attempting to "buy votes." Allegations of hypocrisy have abounded.

Anti-Soros sentiment sprung up in yet a third location in Washington Thursday as a group called Accuracy in Media had a news conference to release a report titled, "The Hidden Soros Agenda: Drugs, Money, the Media, and Politics." The report's editor, Cliff Kincaid, said in a Web column that the media have favored Soros and not exposed his "shady" side, to borrow a phrase.

Soros said that all of this negative attention may have helped him in his quest.

"Thanks to the Republican National Committee, my name has become a household name," he said after his speech. He said this recognition allowed his newspaper advertisements to be more effective.

A portion of his speech was dedicated to the question of faith. He said people must have strong beliefs, religious or otherwise, in order to make decisions, but that singular reliance upon religious faith can stand in the way of deciding correctly.

Bush, he said, is "incapable of recognizing his mistakes. He insists on making reality conform to his beliefs even at the cost of deceiving himself and deliberately deceiving the public."

Countering claims that he has been hypocritical in getting around the campaign-finance laws, Soros said that whenever reforms are introduced there will always be ways around them. The thing to do is to keep working on the laws and improving them.

Soros amassed a fortune estimated in the billions as an international investor in hedge funds. He now oversees the Open Society Institute and its affiliated organizations in more than 50 countries. They spent nearly $500 million last year.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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