George Soros (Photo by OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER HOSLET/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

When the left loves billionaires

Why does only right-wing funding count as “dark money”?

Artillery Row

Could human rights in Europe see the “lights turn off”? So thinks the Guardian, which is worried about George Soros’ Open Society Foundation shrinking its European footprint.

Under the management of Soros’ son Alex, the OSF sent an email in July in which it set out new plans: many of the regional European offices would close, the majority of staff at the main office in Berlin would be let go, and the focus and resources would be shifted to the rest of the world instead.

In many ways, that sounds quite reasonable. The OSF and Soros, informed by his own history as a refugee from the Nazis, have always been preoccupied with human rights. Those are clearly much more abused outside Europe than inside.

Large parts of the world still labour under dictatorial or one party rule, with recent coups in Africa, including one in Sudan that has degenerated into a bloody civil war. Undeniably, the people of Sudan are suffering much more than the Hungarians whom the Guardian article is so concerned about.

The Guardian doesn’t feel the need to label Soros’ donations the same way

The Guardian has always had rather an odd view on large donor funding, however, perhaps because it is itself partially reliant on a venture capital fund.

In contrast to its favourable coverage of Soros, wealthy donors who fund right-wing causes are apt to find themselves labelled as “dark money”. Take for instance a large donation by the Jewish-American Chicago businessman Barre Seid, which the Guardian describes as “dark money” intended to help “Republican officials manipulate elections”.

Even though Leonard Leo, head of the Marble Freedom Trust which received the so-called “dark money”, says that it is intended to counteract the financial heft of left-wing donors like Soros, the Guardian doesn’t feel the need to label Soros’ donations the same way or to discuss the impact of those donations in such negative terms.

Similarly in an article on the biggest donors in American politics, left-wing donors like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are described as “paragons of philanthropy”, whilst liberal donors more generally are “a rather attractive bunch” who are “giving for the common good” and are even “useful for the goods and jobs they have helped produce”.

In contrast, right-wing donors are “extremely conservative”, as well as “unenthusiastic” about “programs supported by large majorities of Americans”. These right-wing donors are considered especially dodgy because they “stay almost entirely silent” about their favoured causes in public. With no apparent irony, the article was funded by the Ford Foundation.

If these right-wing donors are so powerful, why do they feel the need to hide their donations? One answer can be found in another article on disgraced FTX billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, who is described as having “funnelled dark money to Republicans”.

The ultimate question is how much influence the rich should have in politics

Although his personal donations to the Democrats were well known, Bankman-Fried also admitted in a video interview with a crypto commentator that he’d donated equally to the Republicans, but that he’d not disclosed these gifts publicly.

As he explained, “The reason was not for regulatory reasons, it’s because reporters freak the fuck out if you donate to Republicans. They’re all super liberal, and I didn’t want to have that fight.” Perhaps “dark money” has less to do with being nefarious then and more to do with the threat of left-wing harassment.

Much the same is true in Europe. When the group Britain’s Future ran pro-Brexit Facebook adverts, it was accused by the Guardian of being “dark money”, despite the recognition that no laws had been broken. It even acknowledged that left-wing donors like Soros were funding the anti-Brexit People’s Vote to do similar things.

It’s entirely reasonable for donors to be afraid. Tufton Street in London, where The Critic is based, is also home to a building containing several right-wing think tanks. It has been explicitly targeted by left-wing protestors on multiple occasions, including harassment by sitting MPs.

In contrast, when right-wingers criticise left-wing donors like Soros, they’re liable to be called anti-semites for portraying Soros as “dark money” or a puppet master manipulating people, even though he is well known as a donor. His donations are intended to bring about the changes he wants, which is equally true of right-wing donors.

Going beyond childish complaints that donors one approves of are good and donors one doesn’t approve of are bad, the ultimate question is about how much influence the rich should be able to have in politics, whether right-wing or left-wing.

For instance, the government’s Rwanda plan, which more people support than oppose, has been repeatedly frustrated by legal challenges launched by British charities that are largely funded by various foundations (i.e., rich people or their legacies).

This is of course entirely legal (but then so are the measures taken against Soros’ funding in Hungary, of which the Guardian is less fond) — but it is arguably not very democratic. One way to deal with the issue therefore is to be much more restrictive on all major political funding. This would no doubt upset many in both right-wing and left-wing parties and newspapers, but it would have the benefit of making our politics much more representative of the national will.

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