Gillespie Issues Challenge to BCRA Backers

Posted November 17, 2003 at 6:42pm

Responding to recent reports suggesting that Democratic donors George Soros and Peter Lewis are preparing to dump millions of dollars into the 2004 presidential election, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie on Monday challenged several “good government” groups to criticize the two donors.

Soros recently disclosed that he has pledged more than $15 million to defeat President Bush, while Lewis has promised at least $12 million and a host of other pro-Democratic groups not affiliated with the national party have vowed to raise millions more. Soros has also said he spent $18 million to support the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act last year.

Following a conference call with reporters Monday, Gillespie sent letters to Democracy 21, Public Campaign, Common Cause and the Alliance for Better Campaigns pointing out their past statements on soft money and suggesting that they disclose whatever funds they have received from Soros in the past.

Referring during the conference call to Soros’ spending in support of BCRA, Gillespie said, “I’m wondering if that’s why there’s been so much hesitancy on the part of these organizations” to criticize Soros.

Repeating a charge made often by conservatives, Gillespie also wondered whether the pro-BCRA organizations were muting their criticism because the groups in question are liberal.

The RNC chairman’s charges drew quick responses from the letters’ recipients.

“We plan to do what we always do, which is watch and wait and see what happens and then if [Soros] is in violation of campaign finance laws we will speak out,” said Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle. “We’re not giving anyone a pass.”

Boyle said that during the past four years, Soros’ Open Society Institute had given $600,000 to Common Cause’s Education Fund — the group’s 501(c)(3) arm. She said the group has received no money from Soros personally.

The Open Society Institute has also given money to Public Campaign.

“Those grants are a matter of public record,” said Public Campaign Executive Director Nick Nyhart, who accused Gillespie of hypocrisy on the issue.

“We welcome Mr. Gillespie’s newfound interest in reducing the power of big money in politics,” Nyhart said. “We only wish he had come to this position with a little more consistency.”

Meredith McGehee, executive director of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, said Gillespie’s charges were off the mark because her group is not in the habit of criticizing particular groups or individual donors.

“I’m not going to respond to [Gillespie],” McGehee said. “It’s a matter of public record what the alliance gets and who we get it from. I’m not interested in getting in a partisan wrangle that has nothing to do with what the alliance is all about.”