The American Civil Liberties Union, backed by billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, is investing resources and applying organizational muscle in local district attorney races in 2018. The ACLU is among organizations working to elect prosecutors who are willing to jumpstart a laundry list of criminal justice reforms, including an overhaul of the pretrial bail bond system. It received a $50 million grant from Soros’ Open Society Foundations in 2014. In this year’s elections, the organization is planning voter education and outreach campaigns in district attorney races in California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont and possibly North Carolina and Missouri, McClatchy Newspapers reports. The group will focus on contests in big cities with large jail populations that feed the state prison system, said the ACLU’s Taylor Pendergrass. More than 1,000 local prosecutors are up for election in November. “We’re just recognizing how powerful district attorneys are in shaping criminal justice policies, both at the local level, but also at the statehouse,” Pendergrass said.
Soros-funded super PACs and advocacy groups have helped elect progressive district attorneys who now serve metro areas such as Chicago, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia and Orlando. Law enforcement officials, anti-crime groups and the bail bond industry are pushing back, warning that weakening the nation’s approach to crime will put public safety at risk. James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police doesn’t buy the “underlying premise” that many people are unjustly incarcerated or are serving inordinately long sentences. “George Soros and the Kochs don’t have to worry about criminals on the street,” Pasco said. “They’ve got security guards and live in secure areas … But it’s going to make a tremendous difference to those people, who by circumstance or accident of birth, find themselves living in high-crime, poverty-stricken areas without the wherewithal to protect themselves.”