NEW YORK -- As former President Donald Trump braces for a potential indictment related to hush money payments made on his behalf during his 2016 campaign, Republicans blasting the case as politically motivated are blaming a frequent target: George Soros.
The 92-year-old billionaire investor and philanthropist — who has been falsely accused of everything from hiring violent rioters to committing election crimes — doesn't know and didn't donate directly to the New York prosecutor steering the probe. But that hasn't stopped Trump and other high-profile Republicans from accusing Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who convened the grand jury investigating Trump, of acting on Soros' behalf.
Trump on Monday used his Truth Social platform to misleadingly claim that Bragg “received in EXCESS OF ONE MILLION DOLLARS” from Soros. Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance tweeted that the prosecutor was “bought by George Soros.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called the case a “manufactured circus by some Soros-DA.”
Experts say the claims exploit a gray area of campaign fundraising, where tenuous connections between PAC donors and the candidates who ultimately receive the funds can be unclear.
Scapegoating Soros, who is Hungarian American and Jewish, also perpetuates deep-rooted false ideas about Jewish people and immigrants to underscore the conspiracy theory that he is a shadowy villain orchestrating world events.
The misleading claims about Soros' link to the Trump case stem from a real donation the philanthropist made in 2021. Soros gave $1 million to Color of Change PAC, a political group that ran an independent expenditure campaign to support Bragg’s district attorney run.
But Soros spokesman Michael Vachon confirmed the wealthy donor's contribution to the PAC was not earmarked to be used for Bragg. Soros didn't donate to Bragg’s campaign directly, and the two have never met in person, by phone or virtually, Vachon said.
Soros' contribution to Color of Change PAC, which told The Associated Press it supports prosecutors looking to change the criminal justice system, follows a pattern for the investor, who “has made numerous contributions in support of reform-minded prosecutors across the country since 2015,” Vachon said. Soros wrote in an op-ed in 2022 that he supports these candidates because they invest in changes he supports, including mental health programs and treating drug addiction as a disease instead of a crime. Personally and through another PAC, Soros donated about $4 million to Color of Change PAC between 2016 and 2022, Vachon said.
Still, Republicans and social media users have sought to use the 2021 donation to link Soros to the looming potential charges against Trump. Some widely shared posts have even falsely claimed that Soros donated directly to Bragg’s campaign or personally prompted the probe.
In a situation like this, when a donor gives non-earmarked funds to a PAC whose spending he doesn’t control, “there’s no connection between the original contributor and the ultimate beneficiary the PAC has chosen to support,” said Jerry Goldfeder, a New York campaign finance expert and special counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.
But even as it's false to suggest Soros directly contributed to Bragg’s election effort, it’s fair to say Soros-linked entities invested a significant sum to see Bragg elected, said New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. Soros' son and daughter-in-law, Jonathan Soros and Jennifer Allan Soros, gave directly to Bragg's campaign, according to public contribution data.
That gives political cover for Republicans to tie Bragg to Soros — a name that “makes people on the populist right lose their minds,” Sheinkopf said.
Soros has given billions of dollars to liberal and anti-authoritarian causes all over the world, and as a result, he's long been a boogeyman for conservatives. Unfounded conspiracy theories over the years have falsely cast him as backing violent protesters and interfering with elections. They've also falsely accused him of having family ties to political figures ranging from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
These attacks give people partial to conspiracy theories a simple answer for a complicated world — but one that promotes damaging antisemitic ideas, according to Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University.
“We need to understand that this has nothing to do with Soros,” Sarna said. “But it has everything to do with a very old, antisemitic view that even though Jews are small in number, they really control everything. The idea that behind the scenes, and barely visible, look for the Jew.”
The spread of such narratives has been linked to real-world harm. In 2018, a Florida man mentioned Soros dozens of times on social media before mailing pipe bombs to newsrooms, top Democrats and Soros himself.
“What has been so dispiriting for many American Jews is that they really thought we had put a lot of those antisemitic tropes behind us,” Sarna said. “And now, lo and behold, they’re back.”
As Trump awaited possible charges Wednesday, he continued to push Soros rhetoric in an email to supporters. He has denied any wrongdoing amid the hush-money probe.