Amid violent crime wave, permissive, Soros-funded prosecutors under fire nationwide
Progressive district attorneys facing backlash while accused of misconduct, being soft on crime.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook
- bungled 2018 prosecution
- murder rates
- fewer felonies
- more than five times
- 559 homicides
Across the country, left-wing district attorneys funded by progressive megadonor George Soros are facing severe backlash, including efforts to oust them from office, for pushing soft-on-crime policies during a nationwide surge in violent crime and, in some cases, allegedly engaging in prosecutorial misconduct.
Soros, 91, has spent the last several years injecting tens of millions of dollars into local district attorney races throughout the country, backing progressive candidates who support policies such as abolishing bail, defunding the police, and decriminalizing or deprioritizing certain offenses.
From 2015 to 2019, for example, Soros spent more than $17 million on local DA races, according to the Capital Research Center. That figure has likely risen in the past couple years, experts say.
In 2020, the Foundation to Promote Open Society, a grantmaking foundation in Soros's network, gave $3 million to the Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability, which provides resources to activists and organizations "working to address the harm of policing in the U.S."
Soros has provided much of the cash through his network of nonprofits to political action committees controlled by attorney Whitney Tymas, the New York Post reported.
Tymas has suggested local prosecutors shouldn't just enforce the law but also work to revolutionize the criminal justice system.
"If we are to reach a place of true progress, it will take the sustained efforts of local elected prosecutors across the country to rectify and reimagine their role in the criminal legal system — not just as gatekeepers, but as active catalysts for change," she wrote in a 2020 op-ed.
Soros's money has helped elect several such "catalysts for change" across the country. However, many of these progressive DAs now find themselves in political — and, in some cases, legal — trouble after implementing controversial policies which, critics say, have contributed to the current violent crime wave devastating U.S. cities.
Next month, Gardner is set to appear before a disciplinary hearing, where she will face charges of ethics violations stemming from her office's 2018 prosecution of former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.
Last year, Missouri's chief legal disciplinary officer accused Gardner of rampant misconduct in the prosecution, saying she lied to judges in court filings and testimony, withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, misled her own prosecution team, and violated the constitutional right to a fair trial.
Gardner has denied all wrongdoing, saying she complied with state law. She could have her law license revoked if the charges against her are upheld.
During Gardner's tenure, crime has skyrocketed in St. Louis, with the city experiencing near-record murder rates. Even last year was among one of the city's deadliest in decades, despite murders being down from 2020.
Amid high homicide figures, Gardner has declined more cases and issued fewer arrest warrants, charging fewer felonies and prosecuting thousands of fewer cases overall than her predecessor as a result. She has also deferred prison sentences for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies as part of her reform initiatives.
Gardner says this is part of her "platform to reduce the number of cases unnecessarily charged in order to focus on the more difficult cases for trial."
Her campaign website boasts that she's "made jail and prison a last resort, reserved for those who pose a true public safety risk," while limiting "the arrest and detention of people accused of misdemeanors and low-level felonies."
Last year, Gardner came under fire after three murder cases under her purview were dismissed in one week due to prosecutors in her office not showing up for hearings or being unprepared.
Gardner is one of several big-name DAs backed by Soros who have struggled with high turnover in their offices. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the effect of the turnover in Gardner's office has been "a state of dysfunction, low morale, and dearth of legal wisdom necessary to safeguard the public from potentially dangerous criminals."
Beyond Gardner, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner is another Soros-funded prosecutor currently under intense scrutiny.
Now, Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman is urging state leaders to consider impeachment proceedings against Krasner, who's been in office since 2018.
Corman blames Krasner for the recent spike in violent crime across Philadelphia, arguing the DA's policies have allowed criminals to thrive.
Krasner didn't address the substance of Corman's accusations in his response, instead criticizing the senator for playing politics.
Philadelphia ended 2021 with an all-time record of 559 homicides, far surpassing the total of any prior year since city leaders began tracking killings in 1960. So far this year, murders are outpacing last year's figures.
During his tenure, Krasner has cut the future years of incarceration by half and slashed the length of parole in probation supervision by nearly two-thirds compared to the previous DA. He has also made a priority of not prosecuting people who are illegally in possession of guns unless they hurt or kill people.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw was previously quoted as saying Philadelphia's criminal justice system has become a "revolving door" for repeat gun offenders since Krasner became DA. Outlaw said last year that she and Krasner "don't agree" on which crimes to prioritize and prosecute.
Last March, the Democratic City Committee voted not to endorse Krasner for the upcoming primary election, but Krasner won anyway.
Moving to the West Coast, Soros spent more than $2 million to elect Los Angeles County DA George Gascon in 2020.
Since then, multiple recall efforts have been launched to oust Gascon from office due to rising crime rates. The most recent one was launched last month.
As of September, at least 31 cities in Los Angeles County issued a vote of no confidence in Gascon, condemning his controversial policies.
A recent wave of package thefts from freight trains passing through downtown Los Angeles has put the spotlight on Gascon, whom railroad giant Union Pacific blames for the thefts. Los Angeles has also faced a surge in robberies, while homicides soared last year to their highest level in over a decade.
A growing number of bipartisan voices are pointing the finger at Gascon, who has eliminated cash bail in most cases and sought to put more convicted criminals in rehabilitation rather than prison.
Gascon isn't the only Soros-linked DA in California facing backlash. San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, whose parents were members of the Weather Underground domestic terrorist group, has also enjoyed the help of the megadonor's extended financial network, including Soros-backed organizations, such as the Tides Foundation and its Fair and Just Prosecution project.
This week, a 69-year-old Asian-American man who was violently attacked in 2019 said he's suing Boudin, accusing the prosecutor of mishandling the case against his alleged assailants. The announcement of the lawsuit came one day after the San Francisco Police Department revealed there was a 527% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in the city in 2021 compared with the previous year.
Boudin has said he wants to abolish cash bail and end "mass incarceration." During his time in office, San Francisco has experienced a wave of robberies, looting, and burglaries similar to Los Angeles. According to one study, San Francisco is more dangerous than 98% of U.S. cities, according to Lee Ohanian of the Hoover Institution. By comparison, Compton, Calif., which is notorious for gang violence, is more dangerous than 90% of cites and considered safer in terms of crime rate.
The situation has caused progressive Mayor London Breed to intervene and call for police to be more aggressive, saying the crime wave "has destroyed" San Francisco.
"It's time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end," she said. "And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bulls**t that has destroyed our city."
In the Midwest, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx was elected in 2016 with the help of Soros's funding and reelected in 2020 with $2 million more from the billionaire.
Foxx has come under intense scrutiny for her office's dismissal of all charges in the original indictment against actor Jussie Smollett in 2019, three weeks after a grand jury had issued it. Smollett was convicted last month of staging a hate crime.
According to a recent investigation, Foxx lied to the public about cutting off communications with Smollett's sister when she was told the actor had become a suspect. Foxx is now being investigated for potential ethics violations in her handling of the case.
Chicago, a city infamous for shootings, has experienced a surge in violent crime since Foxx became state's attorney of Cook County. In 2021, there were more murders than in any year since 1994.
During her first three years in office, Foxx dropped all charges against 29.9% of felony defendants, a major increase from her predecessor, who only dropped 19.4%, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Staying in the Midwest, another Soros-backed prosecutor who's come under the gun is Milwaukee DA John Chisholm.
Chisholm conceded in November that he had set an "inappropriately low" bail amount earlier that month when Darrell Edward Brooks Jr., whom police arrested for attacking a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisc., was arrested for domestic abuse and eluding police.
Chisholm has received widespread blowback for his handling of the Brooks case. His office recommended $1,000 bail for Brooks following his prior arrest on Nov. 5 on charges that he punched his girlfriend in the face and hit her with his vehicle. Brooks was also charged with evading police officers when they tried to take him into custody.
Brooks posted bail on Nov. 11 and, days later, allegedly drove his vehicle into the Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring dozens of others.
Chisholm, who was elected in 2007, supports deferrals for some misdemeanors and "low-level" felonies in order to decrease incarcerations. He claims he inspired the current wave of progressive prosecutors who are pursuing similar policies.