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Some people’s names take on special meaning, and when they are mentioned, those in the know nod in recognition. Take George Soros. The name of the Hungarian-born philanthropist, hedge fund manager and major liberal donor stands for things to some in the Republican Party, namely, ultra-liberal ideals and a willingness to spend millions of dollars to back them.
That quickly brings us to an ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which wants a GOP candidate, Jim Hagedorn, to win an open seat in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District. Thus, the NRCC ad, one of two made in quick succession with similar themes, seeks to tie the Democratic candidate in the race, Dan Feehan, to Soros.
We at PolitiFact deal with claims made through words, so we will not be ruling on the ad’s visual that show cartoonish mounds of money piled in front of the billionaire -- and Colin Kaepernick, the protesting former quarterback, right next to Soros, with masked mobs in front of him. But the words, spoken by an announcer, say, "Soros’ billions bankroll the resistance and Dan Feehan. Feehan's employed by a Soros-funded liberal outfit in D.C." and his campaign is "propped up by out of state super PACs backed by Soros' millions."
Does Feehan work for a "Soros-funded liberal outfit," and is his campaign "propped up" by PACs backed by Soros?
The claim is inaccurate, despite what NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers said when he defended the ad on NBC’s "Meet the Press" last Sunday: "That ad is a factual ad." We’ll explain why that’s not right, but here’s a hint:
Feehan isn’t a fulltime employee of the think tank the ad links him to. Even if he were, it would be fairer to say that a major defense contractor and the United States government are bigger current funders of the think tank than Soros -- and President Donald Trump’s defense secretary used to serve on the board and very much likes the center’s work.
Feehan is a combat veteran of the Iraq war, a former teacher and a former acting assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration. He does research and writing as an adjunct senior fellow for the Center for a New American Security. The center told us this means he contributes to research and gets paid on a per-project basis, and his compensation suggests as much: As of Aug. 13, his candidate’s financial disclosure listed $55,412 in income from "research/writing" for the center this year and $7,916 from last year.
Some full-time senior fellows at the center, in contrast, were making as much as $172,000 to $197,000 in 2016, forms filed with the IRS show.
The think tank has been characterized as liberal because of its founding by two Democratic foreign policy experts. But in an article for Vox, it was also described as rather centrist, representing "the old George H.W. Bush view on foreign policy; some people would say it’s the Hillary Clinton view — it’s just where the US government has been for a very long time." The Los Angeles Times in 2013 called the center "respected" and "a haven for hawkish Democrats."
The Center for a New American Security has a fan in James Mattis, Trump’s defense secretary. Mattis was on the center’s board before going back into service for the government. The center’s website quotes him as saying the center "understands the importance of all American citizens with worthy ideas in the national security conversation."
Other board members include James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and CEO of 21st Century Fox; former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and Richard L. Armitage, a foreign policy adviser to presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
The center’s president, Richard Fontaine, was a foreign policy adviser to the late Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican.
Soros has donated to the center through his Open Society Foundations.
Open Society spokesman Jonathan Kaplan told us that since 2014, the foundations have given $1.5 million to the center. "These grants supported research on preventing war with North Korea, the use of armed drone strikes, and U.S. foreign military assistance and human rights issues," he said in an email.
More context is useful for understanding this. According to the center’s IRS filings, it got $12.2 million in gifts, grants and contributions from all sources in 2016 alone, $14.6 million in 2015 and $8.5 million in 2014. IRS filings for 2017 were not available, but information disclosed by the center shows that in the 12 months between Oct. 1, 2016 and Sept, 30, 2017, the Open Society Foundations gave the center between $250,000 and $499,000.
That put Soros in the same donor category as the Boeing Corp., Johns Hopkins University and the Smith Richardson Foundation, which supports conservative and neoconservative causes such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, according to Inside Philanthropy.
Who gave more? The center’s website puts contributions in categories, and the category for the deepest donations is $500,000 and above. In the last fiscal year, only these three were on the list: Northrop Grumman, the giant defense contractor; the United States government, and Michael J. Zak, the center’’s board chairman and the principle investor at Charles River Ventures.
Soros has not donated to Feehan’s campaign directly. But when we asked the NRCC for backup to support its claim, it listed Priorities USA, a major super PAC supporting Democrats.
Soros has given Priorities USA $5 million for 2018, our check of Federal Election Commission records confirms, making him the PAC’s second biggest donor (behind Donald Sussman, of the hedge fund Paloma Partners).
Priorities USA in turn has spent at least $103,452 running digital ads to oppose Hagedorn, the Republican whom Feehan is running against.
The NRCC also listed a super PAC affiliated with House Democratic leaders, the House Majority PAC, which as of last week had spent $972,949 to oppose Hagedorn, running ads on TV and websites and sending direct mail to Minnesota homes, records show.
Soros had not donated to the House Majority PAC in this election cycle. But the NRCC told us Soros gave nearly $2.2 million in 2016, and records confirm that.
The National Republican Congressional Committee says that "billionaire George Soros bankrolls" Dan Feehan, who is "employed by a Soros-funded liberal outfit in D.C." and his campaign is "propped up by out of state super PACs backed by Soros' millions."
Soros is currently a major donor to a super PAC, Priorities USA, that is supporting Feehan through its ads criticizing Hagedorn.
Beyond that, this claim falls apart. Feehan is an adjunct staff member at an "outfit" that has other funders who are quite generous, including major defense contractors. The center has been described as liberal in media accounts, but it has been described in other ways as well, and its past and present board members include people chosen for high ranks by Republican presidents, including Trump. Soros hasn't donated to Feehan and does not "bankroll" Feehan. We rate the claim False.
National Republican Congressional Committee ad, Oct,. 18, 2018
Email correspondence with NRCC, Oct. 29, 2018
Email correspondence with Feehan campaign, Oct. 29, 2018
Financial disclosure report for Dan Feehan, filed Aug. 13, 2018
Internal Revenue Service filings for Center for a New American Security, accessed via Guidestar
Contributions to Center for a New American Security for last fiscal year
Telephone and email exchanges with Center for a New American Security, Oct. 29, 2018
Telephone and email exchanges with Open Society Foundations, Oct. 29, 2018
Federal Election Commission, data accessed Oct. 30, 2018
Center for Responsive Politics, data accessed Oct. 30, 2018
"Meet the Press," transcript, Oct. 28, 2018
Los Angeles Times, Defense secretary job could go to a woman, Jan. 4, 2013 (via Nexis)
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