In the leadup to a Manhattan grand jury’s decision to indict former President Donald Trump, some conservatives connected the investigation to billionaire George Soros, a frequent target of conspiracy theorists.
Soros, a 92-year-old Hungarian-American who is worth an estimated $8.5 billion, is known for his contributions to progressive organizations and liberal causes. But some Republicans are mischaracterizing a donation he made to a nonprofit advocacy group that supported Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in the 2021 election.
“Just Out: District Attorney Alvin Bragg received in EXCESS OF ONE MILLION DOLLARS from Radical Left Enemy of ‘TRUMP,’ George Soros,” reads a March 20 Truth Social post from Trump.
After Trump was indicted, he wrote in a March 30 statement that Bragg was “handpicked and funded by George Soros.”
Steven Cheung, Trump’s spokesperson, referred USA TODAY to articles from the Washington Examiner, Daily Mail and New York Post thatall reference the $1 million contribution.
New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik tweeted that Bragg “took one million dollars” from Soros, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to Bragg in a tweet as a “Soros-funded prosecutor.”
Similar claims have spread on Facebook and Instagram as users attempt to paint the Manhattan probe as politically motivated.
But these assertions all overstate the connection between Soros and Bragg.
Soros did not directly donate to Bragg, and a third-party group Soros donated to also didn’t make direct donations, opting instead for an independent expenditure campaign.
Michael Vachon, a Soros spokesperson, told USA TODAY in an email that Soros has never met or spoken to Bragg.
“There has been no contact between the two,” Vachon said. “Neither George Soros nor Democracy PAC (which Soros contributes funds to) contributed to Alvin Bragg’s campaign for Manhattan district attorney.”
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Color of Change donation was independent of Soros
In 2019, Bragg announced he would run for Manhattan district attorney against incumbent District Attorney Cyrus Vance, arguing that the justice system “criminalizes poverty.” Bragg said he would have “one standard of justice for all” if elected.
Color of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group, pledged to spend $1 million supporting Bragg in May 2021 through direct mail efforts and field campaign work, according to a press release.
Less than a week after the pledge from Color of Change was announced, Soros contributed $1 million to Color of Change’s political action committee. However, these funds were not earmarked for Bragg, according to Vachon.
Earmarked contributions are direct monetary contributions to a candidate’s campaign made through an intermediate political committee and are considered to be a contribution both from the original donor and the intermediate political committee, according to Vito Pitta, a campaign finance expert and co-managing partner at Pitta LLP.
Color of Change President Rashad Robinson told CNN the group eventually spent a little over $500,000 in support of Bragg. The PAC paused its spending on Bragg after hearing about an unverified allegation concerning Bragg that the organization couldn’t investigate at the time, according to Robinson.
Color of Change told USA TODAY its decisions who to support are not determined directly by donors.
“Color Of Change PAC has many funders who invest in our broad strategy to root out injustice in our criminal legal system,” a spokesperson told USA TODAY in an emailed statement. “Independent of these funders, Color Of Change PAC runs a review and interview process to endorse reform-minded district attorneys each election cycle.”
Experts say no legal link between Soros donation, Bragg
A decision to support Bragg with any of the $1 million from Soros can’t be characterized as a direct contribution to Bragg from either Soros or Color of Change, according to campaign finance experts.
The Color of Change PAC made no direct contribution to Bragg’s campaign, instead opting for an independent expenditure campaign, state donation records show.
Election law expert Paul S. Ryan said campaign finance laws regulating independent expenditures prohibit the spender from coordinating with candidates about the spending. Because of this absence of coordination with candidates, such expenditures are not treated as “contributions” to candidates under the law, according to Ryan.
“If Color of Change’s spending in support of Bragg met the legal requirements for ‘independent expenditures,’ then it is not fair to say that Soros or Color of Change contributed to Bragg,” Ryan said via email.
Jerry Goldfeder, a campaign finance law and public integrity investigations expert, agreed.
“If the contribution to a PAC is not earmarked and the contributor has no role in how the PAC money gets spent, the contributor has no link to or responsibility for the PAC’s expenditures,” Goldfeder said.
Soros’ contribution to Color of Change’s PAC isn’t unusual. Between 2016 and 2022, Soros and Democracy PAC contributed $4 million to Color of Change, Vachon said. He has made numerous contributions “in support of reform-minded prosecutors” across the country since 2015, Vachon said.
The Open Society Policy Center, another Soros-affiliated organization, also gave Color of Change a five-year grant ($1.4 million annually from 2021 to 2025) to advance racial justice, according to Thomas Watson, an editorial director at the Open Society Foundations.
That grant agreement required no Open Society funds be used for partisan or political activities, however, Watson said.
Soros’ son and daughter-in-law did contribute to Bragg’s campaign, according to public records.
Soros a frequent target of false claims
Soros is a frequent target of misinformation. USA TODAY debunked claims that he funded rigged voting machines during the 2022 midterm elections, endorsed Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the 2024 presidential race and had family ties with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“Soros is a large-dollar donor who likes to donate to a lot of liberal or left-leaning causes, and I think that kind of makes him the evil twin of the Koch brothers in the mind of a lot of folks on the right,” Jacob Neiheisel, a political science professor at the University of Buffalo, told USA TODAY.
Soros, who is Jewish, has also been linked to various anti-Semitic conspiracy theories surrounding the false narrative that Jewish people control the global financial system, according to Neiheisel.