- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Billionaire currency trader George Soros, in his quest to unseat President Bush, has given millions of dollars to a coalition of anti-Bush organizations whose nationwide voter-registration drive has been targeted by state and federal authorities for possible widespread fraud.

Working under an umbrella organization known as America Votes, the coalition’s registration drive — described by election officials as the largest in U.S. history — focused on potential voters in 14 so-called battleground states.

America Votes, which represents a collection of labor unions, trial lawyers, environmental groups and community organizations representing 20 million Americans, describes itself as a “nonpartisan political organization” that seeks to use the strategic abilities and large membership base of its coalition members to “break new ground in electoral politics.”

Its goal is to “register, educate and mobilize” voters for this year’s elections, but some of those efforts are now being challenged.

Hundreds of questionable voter-registration applications, such as duplicates, and accusations of workers shredding registrations in favor of one party are under review by local, state and federal law-enforcement and election authorities in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, West Virginia, Oregon, Ohio, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The coalition spent more than $100 million on its voter-registration campaign, according to financial records and several people familiar with the member organizations. Despite its nonpartisan claim, its membership includes 32 groups committed to Mr. Bush’s defeat.

Cecile Richards, a veteran labor and political organizer, is the coalition’s president. Before coming to America Votes, she served as deputy chief of staff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

“The launch of America Votes is a groundbreaking endeavor in American politics,” she said. “We look forward to working together to reach out to voters and to talk about the issues that are important to Americans. America Votes is going to make an historic impact on the political process in this country.”

As a key contributor to the coalition, Mr. Soros, whose estimated net worth is $7 billion, is on a one-month speaking tour in several battleground states, where he has taken Mr. Bush to task for what he called “missteps” in the war in Iraq.

Mr. Soros has described the Nov. 2 elections and the defeat of Mr. Bush as “the central focus of my life.” To that end, he has routed millions of dollars to coalition members, key among which are MoveOn.org, an anti-Bush Internet-based advocacy group, and America Coming Together (ACT), which is dedicated to get-out-the-vote activities for Democratic candidates, particularly this year.

Coalition members are using thousands of paid workers and volunteers, armed with bar-coded identification sheets, to target undecided and potential Democratic voters door to door, and at shopping centers, grocery stores, street festivals, sporting events, naturalization ceremonies and hip-hop concerts from coast to coast.

The America Votes registration drive has been the beneficiary of millions of Soros dollars, and records show two coalition members, MoveOn.org and ACT, have accounted for nearly $15 million alone in cash contributions from Mr. Soros and his business partner, Peter Lewis.

Both MoveOn.org and ACT are 527 tax-exempt organizations, allowed to take part in political campaigns and register voters.

MoveOn.org, which claims 2.3 million members, received significant financial help from Mr. Soros and Mr. Lewis, who pledged a $5 million matching grant last November — a dollar for every two raised by MoveOn.org members — to put together a $15 million war chest to defeat Mr. Bush.

The organization was begun in 1998 by Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who organized an Internet-based advocacy group to protest the “waste of tax dollars” in the impeachment of President Clinton, calling for the country to “move on to more pressing issues facing the nation.”

Later, MoveOn.org vigorously opposed U.S. intervention in Iraq, a position that drew the attention of Mr. Soros.

MoveOn.org ran an ad largely funded by anti-war Democrats that accused Mr. Bush of lying to get the United States into war with Iraq and blaming him for 1,000 American deaths there as well as a $150 billion price tag.

The ad included an image of a U.S. soldier sinking in desert sand as he tried to keep his rifle above his head.

In 2002, Mr. Boyd and Mrs. Blades hired a computer programmer, Zack Exley, as MoveOn.org’s organizing director. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Exley had programmed GWBush.com, a Web page that featured doctored photographs portraying Mr. Bush as a drug addict.

ACT was founded in August 2003 when Mr. Soros announced he was giving $10 million to the organization to ensure that Mr. Bush was not re-elected. At the time, he called ACT “an effective way to mobilize civil society, to convince people to go to the polls and vote for candidates who will reassert the values of the greatest open society in the world.”

The District-based organization has since raised more than $50 million to defeat Mr. Bush, and has been active in the America Votes registration campaign. It hired a staff of about 1,500 canvassers, paying them $12 an hour to go door to door in battleground states to register voters.

ACT is headed by Ellen R. Malcolm, who also organized Emily’s List, a pro-choice political action network, and Steve Rosenthal, who served as deputy political adviser to the Democratic National Committee, chief adviser to Labor Secretary Robert Reich during the Clinton administration and political director at the AFL-CIO.

Mrs. Malcolm told The Washington Post that the Soros donation was “like getting his Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”

Mr. Rosenthal also is executive director of Partnership for America’s Families (PAF), a political action committee financed with $20 million from labor unions and as much as $10 million from individual, pro-Democratic donors. PAF also is a member of the America Votes coalition.

The battleground states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin — can deliver 145 Electoral College votes, with 270 needed to win.

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