Analysis: Soros pumps millions into global change
Billionaire financier George Soros, who has helped trigger financial turmoil and political upheaval overseas, is coming to Pittsburgh this weekend to discuss the impact of his Open Society Institute.
Soros will address the 57th annual Council on Foundations conference, which opens Sunday. The council is a trade association for more than 2,000 philanthropic programs worldwide.
According to an event program, Soros is scheduled to speak on “the innovative ways that the Open Society Institute is changing lives across the globe.” Soros “will share how creative grantmaking and partnerships can effect change that is far-reaching and sustaining,” the program states.
According to its Internet site, the institute aims to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights and economic, legal and social reform. It oversees a network of nearly 30 national foundations, most in Eastern Europe.
The institute was founded in 1994 by Soros, 75, the controversial liberal activist who two years ago donated $24 million to various political groups in a failed attempt to derail President Bush’s re-election.
In addition to Progressive Insurance Chairman Peter B. Lewis and Hyatt hotel heiress Linda Pritzker, Soros is one of the main contributors to MoveOn.org — a political organization once described by The Washington Post as having “a vigorously liberal agenda.”
MoveOn spent millions unsuccessfully trying to get Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts — the husband of Fox Chapel ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz — elected president in 2004.
Since then, the group has paid for TV commercials denouncing the war in Iraq and has provided assistance to radical anti-war activist and Bush-basher Cindy Sheehan.
Soros also dabbles in Pennsylvania politics. He has donated $4,200 so far to the campaign of Democratic Senate candidate Robert Casey Jr., the state treasurer who is challenging Republican incumbent Rick Santorum of Penn Hills.
‘Dangerous, crazy man’
Soros and his tactics have attracted detractors, among them syndicated radio talk-show host Michael Savage.
In 2004, Savage labeled Soros a “snake” and “a dangerous, crazy man.” He called MoveOn.org “an organization of communists.”
The Open Society Institute’s attempts to change lives is well-documented.
Several years ago, the organization played a pivotal role in toppling the Georgian government in the former Soviet Union.
In 2003, the Globe and Mail of Toronto reported that institute funds were used to help finance the resistance movement, whose street protests prompted the resignation of Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze. Soros had a close relationship with Mikhail Saakashvili — the man elected to succeed Shevardnadze.
In 2002, as he helped engineer Shevardnadze’s downfall, Soros presented Saakashvili his foundation’s Open Society Award. Soros publicly denied engineering the downfall of the Shevardnadze administration, which became known as the “Rose Revolution.”
“Everything in Georgia was done by its people, not by me,” Soros told European reporters in 2004. “I had nothing to do with it.”
Soros, though, wasn’t taken at his word in Ukraine.
During a 2004 visit there, Soros was splattered with mayonnaise and water by two members of the Ukrainian nationalist group Bratsvo. They accused Soros of trying to launch a governmental purge similar to what had occurred in Georgia. Later that year, Soros-backed candidate, Viktor A. Yushchenko, defeated Ukrainia’s Prime Minister Viktor Yankovich to capture the presidency in what is commonly known as the “Orange Revolution.”
The tumult in Georgia and Ukraine prompted Uzbekistan in 2004 to deny the Soros institute registration to operate in that nation.
“After Ukraine and Georgia, we have certain concerns about the activities of these Western democratic promotion organizations,” Igor Sattarov, the foreign ministry’s information chief, told The Associated Press.
Critics of Soros believe his organization played a role in organizing last year’s “Tulip Revolution,” which deposed the Kyrgyzstan government after widespread street protests.
Soros organizations attempting to exert influence in foreign nations hardly is a new occurrence.
In 1997, Peter Byrne, who directed Soros foundation efforts in Belarus, was expelled from that country. Belarus authorities said Byrne was involved in activities that “exceeded the permissible boundaries of a foreign national’s conduct,” First Deputy Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw told the country’s news agency.
Martynaw said Byrne had become involved in the nation’s internal politics, which ran counter to the Soros foundation’s statute of being a nonpolitical organization.
In Great Britain, Soros is considered the primary villain behind the Sept. 16, 1992, “Black Wednesday” — a day when Soros and other currency speculators forced the British government to withdraw the pound from the European exchange-rate mechanism. The move cost the Bank of England more than 3 billion pounds. Soros pocketed more than $1 billion from the action.
‘Man of action’
Differing theories exist as to why Soros attempts to exert such influence on the international stage.
In 2003, Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam theorized that Soros had contracted “Pete Peterson disease.”
“Former Secretary of Commerce Peterson, like Soros, was an adept manager and wheeler-dealer who started making windy pronouncements about the fate of the world in order to be taken as a statesman,” Bream wrote. “If Soros confined himself to scribbling his little-noted books, e.g. ‘George Soros on Globalization,’ that would be one thing. But he is a man of action as well.”
In a 2002 piece in Covert Action Quarterly, a publication of the New York-based Institute for Media Analysis, writer and political activist Heather Cottin labeled Soros an “imperial wizard.” Soros’ role, Cottin wrote, “is to tighten the identical stranglehold of globalization and the New World Order while promoting his own financial gain.”
For such a self-professed proponent of openness and transparency, Soros has donated millions to an organization that shrouds its finances in secrecy.
His Open Society Institute has given more than $13 million to the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, which has funneled millions to liberal and radical causes. The Tides Foundation has been criticized for allowing other philanthropic groups to obscure their donations.
As described by the Center for Consumer Freedom’s activistcash.com Web site: “In practice, Tides behaves less like a philanthropy than a money-laundering enterprise, taking money from other foundations and spending it as the donor requires.
“Called donor-based giving, this pass-through funding vehicle provides public relations insulation for the money’s original donors. By using Tides to funnel its capital, a large public charity can indirectly fund a project to which it would prefer not be directly identified in public.”
The Tides Center also received $8.1 million from 1994 through 2004 from the Heinz Endowments.
Teresa Heinz, who chairs the Howard Heinz Endowment and sits on the Vira Heinz Endowment board, also is scheduled to speak at the Council on Foundations conference here. Others expected to address the conference are former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and Richard Florida, the author, economist and former Carnegie Mellon University professor.