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REVIEW & OUTLOOK

The Soros Agenda
Free speech for billionaires only.

Saturday, January 3, 2004 12:01 a.m. EST

The press corps is finally giving billionaire George Soros the attention he deserves as the new Daddy Warbucks of the Democratic Party. Mr. Soros has responded that all he's doing is exercising his own Constitutional right to free speech. We'd agree, except for the detail that the world's 38th richest man (according to Forbes) is using his money to restrict everyone else's freedom.

In his political funding, Mr. Soros is exploiting the loophole in campaign finance laws that lets billionaires donate however much they want to private political lobbies. But more than that, he also turns out to be a leading cash cow for the Washington lobbies trying to restrict media competition and political speech. Mr. Soros is the personification of what deserves to be called the "public interest" conceit.

This is the idea that folks like Mr. Soros are merely selfless benefactors of truth and justice, but companies trying to protect their rights in Washington are greedy special interests. The hedge-fund operator made his money practicing capitalism but now he spends it trying to give himself and his ideological allies an advantage over other voices. Among his fundees in this case are four closely coordinated groups. The men who founded or run them are known in the Beltway as "the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," after what they are always claiming will happen if some market is deregulated.

They are the Media Access Project, the Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Center for Media Education (which has morphed into the Center for Digital Democracy). Don't be fooled by their consumer-friendly names. All four organizations have long been mouthpieces of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. In the past three years they have bashed or knotted up many of the Bush Administration's major communications proposals.

Take Andrew Schwartzman, head of the Media Access Project, and leader of a campaign to sink FCC Chairman Michael Powell's rules raising ownership caps for broadcasters. MAP's revenue for fiscal 2001 was $526,000, and according to the Soros foundation Web site the billionaire gave the group $600,000 from 2000 to 2002.

The Center for Digital Democracy, meanwhile, has sued to block the FCC's new broadband rules that would free fast Internet access from crushing regulations. The Center is run by Jeff Chester, who spun it off from the Center for Media Education. CME received a $90,000 donation from Mr. Soros in 2001-02.

Mark Cooper, research director at the Consumer Federation of America, has a talent for churning out studies about how Mr. Powell's deregulation would "undermine democracy." His group took $80,000 from Mr. Soros in 2000. And the Consumers Union, run by Gene Kimmelman, also dipped into the Soros pot for $175,000 from 1999 to 2001. The two groups teamed up last year to release a report blaming Mr. Bush and the FCC for widening the "digital divide."

Not that the Four Horsemen fight only to control the airwaves. A few also played roles in promoting the campaign finance laws that have given Mr. Soros and his cash such a big political advantage. Combine their funding with the $1.7 million that Mr. Soros gave the Center for Public Integrity, the $1.3 million he gave Public Campaign, the $300,000 to Democracy 21, the $625,000 to Common Cause, and the $275,000 to Public Citizen -- and you can be forgiven for believing Mr. Soros got campaign finance passed all by himself.

Like Mr. Soros, all of these groups share the view that the real arbiters of public policy should be elites like them. Their own political success refutes their contention that somehow Big Media dominate our public policy debates. And with the new limits on what other Americans can donate to political campaigns, and even on when they can run TV advertising, the Soroses of the world will wield even more influence. Which is of course their point.

As his clout grows, we hope the media pay even more attention to the views of Mr. Soros and his web of left-wing activists. Our readers can examine for themselves the nearly 1,900 payouts that Mr. Soros made to entities since 1999 at http://prs.soros.org/GrantsList/GrantSearch.asp. We'd say they reveal a billionaire who is himself a threat to what he likes to call an "open society."


 
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