NEW YORK – George Soros' (search) dream is President Bush losing in November — and so far, the billionaire philanthropist has donated nearly $13 million to independent groups that also want to turn that vision into reality. "I'm merely putting my money where my mouth is," Soros told The Associated Press.
After surviving the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary and giving away billions of his self-made fortune to charitable causes, Soros is entering national politics in a big way for the first time.
He says he is too disturbed by Bush's policies to do nothing.
"This is not a normal election. These are not normal times," Soros said.
The Bush administration, he said, has flouted past rules of international relations by declaring war in Iraq after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He urged Americans to defeat the "Bush doctrine" by ousting the president on Nov. 2.
"If we re-elect President Bush, we are endorsing that doctrine and we have to accept the consequences," Soros said.
To that end, Soros has given millions to three liberal-leaning organizations that also want a Bush defeat: $10 million to America Coming Together, which aims to mobilize voters; $2.5 million to the MoveOn.org voters' fund, which places anti-Bush advertising; and $300,000 to the Campaign for America's Future.
This election year, Soros has spent about $4 million, more than any other individual, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (search), a nonprofit Washington-based group that tracks political donations.
In recent speeches, Soros has referred to the Bush administration's anti-terrorism polices as a doctrine that has changed Americans from "victims to perpetrators." He says the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has claimed more lives than the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and a Pennsylvania field.
Democrats praise him as an inspiration to disaffected voters.
"He is helping to finance the fullest grass-roots campaign the Democrats have ever had in a presidential election," said Democratic strategist Mandy Grunwald.
To Republicans, he is a huge target. A Republican National Committee memo to congressional Republicans called Soros an "out of touch, left-wing radical pushing an extremist agenda on America."
Added GOP strategist Jay Severin: "He may be Bogeyman No. 1, above Teddy Kennedy and Hillary Clinton."
Soros, 73, who lives in suburban New York City, came to the United States in 1956 nearly a decade after he fled communist Hungary for England, where he graduated from the London School of Economics.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1961 and began to amass his fortune through Soros Fund Management, the private, international investment firm he founded in 1973, and managed. Soros was 54th on this year's Forbes list of the world's richest people, with an estimated $7 billion fortune.
Soros has been an active philanthropist since 1979, when he began to help black students attend the University of Cape Town under the then-apartheid government of South Africa.
Through the Open Society Institute, which he founded in 1993, Soros has given away billions — $450 million a year through his charitable foundation with branches in more than 50 countries, promoting policies and initiatives that foster open government. Among other causes, he has used his fortune to found Central European University in Budapest, pay for early childhood development programs in dozens of countries and promote democratic campaigns in several eastern European nations. He also supports better public schools in New York and legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
Republicans hope Soros will galvanize more people against his views than for him.
"His views are not mainstream views," said RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson, citing Soros' views on the Iraq war.
Soros acknowledged in a telephone interview that "Republicans were successful at using me as a bogeyman" earlier in the campaign.
But now, he said, particularly with the revelation of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, "the general public, including Bush's own constituency, is beginning to see through the lies. I don't think he has the credibility."
Soros, who backed Howard Dean before the former Vermont governor left the Democratic presidential race, has not formally endorsed John Kerry, the presumptive nominee. He said Republicans were unfairly trying to link his views to Kerry's. National Democratic Party officials and a Kerry spokesman didn't return telephone messages for comment.
Soros said Republicans have distorted his views on several issues, including by implying that his support for medical marijuana initiatives means he wants to legalize all drugs.
"I don't think that I'm a madman," Soros said. "I don't think that I'm an extremist."