An Open Letter to George Soros

Dear Mr. Soros,

As the election dust settles in California this week, it is clear you have invested millions of dollars unsuccessfully in attempting to place your chosen candidates into elected District Attorney positions across the state. You and/or your allies lost the elections in Alameda (against Nancy O’Malley), San Diego (against Summer Stephan), Yolo (against Jeff Reisig), Sacramento (against Ann Marie Schubert), Riverside (against Mike Hestrin), and Stanislaus (against Birgit Fladager) Counties. Arguably, you did better in Contra Costa County by supporting the appointed DA, Diana Becton (your only qualified candidate), but the race is still too close to call. I will give you that one for now. Though not a California race, I also followed the race in Washington County, Oregon (against Kevin Barton) this past month where you wasted nearly $1 million on a candidate with no criminal law experience against a former child abuse prosecutor who got 67% of the vote. Your focus this year in Oregon and California is particularly baffling.  We are doing more around innovation and change in the criminal justice system than virtually any other states in the country.

My goal in this letter is to ask you to focus your resources on more productive ways to help people and change the world. You have more money than I will ever possess, but your multi-million-dollar investments in criminal justice reform and bail reform in the United States are not yielding the results or the impacts you aspire to produce. My purpose in this letter is to challenge you and your allies to broaden your view of criminal justice reform and look far more closely at the District Attorneys you blithely and sometimes ignorantly decide to attack or destroy.

While you won races in years past when you caught incumbents off guard, by any measurement, your results this year are terrible. But two things break my heart. First, you are ignoring the work many organizations are doing to increase hope and healing in the lives of crime victims and trauma survivors – the place where you can prevent the next generation of criminals (before they enter the criminal justice system at all) and eliminate disparate impacts before they even occur. Second, you are alienating many that agree with you but resent your strategies and the dishonest attacks on people of integrity by your candidates and allies. Your legacy in criminal justice reform should be positive change. To date, it is not.  

Your supporters and opponents should all agree that you have played a powerful role as a business magnate, philanthropist, political activist, and author around the world. Your Hungarian-Jewish ancestry has clearly positioned and inspired you philosophically to pursue the causes you have championed.

Your cause is just in many ways. Many of us agree with key elements in your platform. We need to re-orient the criminal justice system. We need to stop working at the bottom of the cliff and start working at the top of the cliff – working to keep children and families far away from the cliff altogether. The war on drugs has failed and people of color are heavily over-represented in jails and prisons across this country.  There are police officers that should never have been given a badge and others that should be removed from their entitled roles because of their own rage, racism, or corruption. District Attorneys should not get to operate with unaccountable white privilege or white male privilege across America and they should be not be running unopposed for re-election in almost every jurisdiction in America. The criminal justice system does need reform and people should not simply go to jail because they are poor and cannot buy their way out of the consequences of their crimes.

But your strategy to pick unqualified candidates with no track record of innovation and then elect them as District Attorneys who will violate their oath of office (the oath they must swear to uphold the Constitution for all those suspected of crimes, including police officers), refuse to enforce certain laws, and deny justice to crime victims of all races and backgrounds is ill-fated.  Opposition to your approach is growing, not waning. Let’s deconstruct your strategy and see why you are losing.

You are funding unqualified, incompetent candidates.

 You are promising innovation with candidates that have no track record of innovation.

 You are demonizing District Attorneys with integrity and a track record of innovation without the truth on your side.

 You are ignoring some forms of bias (misogyny, for example) in favor of other forms of bias (racism, for example).

Let me dive a little deeper into each of these poorly thought out strategies.

In races across California this year, none of your candidates could point to ANY solid qualifications to run large DA’s Offices and none had ANY innovative strategies they had successfully implemented to make major changes in systems they were seeking to lead.  What kind of credibility does that provide to voters? Indeed, it was the District Attorneys you attacked that were the real innovators.

Nancy O’Malley is one of the most innovative prosecutors in America. Nancy is nationally respected, incredibly competent and has been a national innovator in human trafficking, domestic violence intervention, sexual assault prosecution, and work with trauma-exposed children. Did you acknowledge any of that? No. Instead, you tried to label her a “racist” and tried to label your inexperienced candidate an “innovator.” You lose your credibility with the voters with tactics like that.

The actual innovators this year were the elected District Attorneys you attacked. Many of them are visionary, reform-oriented and have played powerful roles in protecting their communities from predators and prioritizing resources on the most dangerous offenders.  Nancy O’Malley, Birgit Fladager, Summer Stephan, Ann Marie Schubert, Mike Hestrin, and Kevin Barton have all supported Family Justice Center frameworks that seek to create multi-disciplinary Centers for intervention and prevention work with crime victims (creating greater accountability for police officers and prosecutors in the process according to a recent ACLU report).  Family Justice Centers bring together services for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking – with measurable results in changing the destinies of abused children and children of color. Many of them are also supporting our Camp HOPE America program, the largest camping and mentoring program in the country for children impacted by domestic violence and child abuse?  Nancy O’Malley has helped lead this program in Alameda County – doing more for poor, trauma exposed children than anything Pamela Price has ever done.  Summer Stephan is leading the effort to create an innovative social change campus in San Diego where the community can rally together to change the destinies of trauma-exposed children suffering from the force multipliers of racism, poverty, and historic oppression. Summer’s innovative approaches dwarf anything that her opponent could even talk about doing during the campaign.

Most of the candidates you attacked are innovating around diversion programs, job training initiatives, life coaching for teens, pathways to hope for human trafficking victims, and better trauma treatment for all crime victims.  Each of them has a deep understanding of where criminals come from and know that in America we raise our criminals at home.  In fact, the vast majority of everyone we incarcerate in this country grew up in homes impacted by some mix of child abuse, domestic violence, and/or drugs and alcohol abuse.  These District Attorneys rightfully believe that we must move up stream and focus on how to prevent crime instead of always reactively responding to it.  Yet, you attacked them all in discriminately with your so-called “innovative” candidates.

Not one of your candidates has enunciated a platform to hold sexual predators, sexual harassers, and abusers of women accountable for their crimes.  This is a slap in the face to the #metoo campaign and all those that are working to stop violence against women and children in this country. Many of your candidates have taken untenable positions such as Pamela Price in Alameda County saying, in a public forum, two weeks before the election that she would not prosecute misdemeanor crimes like driving under the influence and domestic violence. No thinking voter is going to listen to or respect Pamela Price or your other candidates espousing those public policy positions. You are focusing on stopping one form of bias while allowing another form of bias.

The fact that a DA is the incumbent or has had a career as a prosecutor does not make them the enemy of your hoped for social change.  You and your allies have sought to demonize most prosecutors in America because of the few bad ones just like you have painted all of law enforcement as evil and bad because of the misconduct of a few.  Indeed, you have attacked innovative prosecutors like Summer Stephen in San Diego, Mike Hestrin in Riverside, and Ann Marie Schubert in Sacramento when it would have been far more productive to build alliances with them.  Your money could have been spent productively instead of destructively with each of them.

You should be advocating for law enforcement agencies to better screen officers during the hiring process for the rage of their own childhood trauma, for mental health issues, for power and control and entitlement issues, and for their own propensity toward rage and violence. Instead of blindly trying to prosecute officers when there is a shooting, let’s get the bad ones off of police forces and keep the unqualified ones from ever joining.

You are ignoring all those victimized by others in communities across California and around the country. Your candidates never even talk about the vast majority of crime victims they should aspire to protect and serve. The passion of my life is meeting the needs of crime victims – poor victims, victims of color, children, adults, and those who have little voice in the system.  Why must your advocacy completely ignore the presence of tens of thousands of realcrime victims?  You are losing the support of many law-abiding citizens in your efforts to make systems change because of such profound disrespect for millions of those experiencing realcrime, violence, and abuse and the failure to invest in solutions that prevent crime to begin with instead of reacting to something already heavily entrenched in the culture.

You are wasting millions and millions of dollars that could be used to save tens of thousands of trauma-impacted children in this country now instead of waiting to release them from jail or prison years from now with “innovative” criminal justice reform measures. Releasing all poor criminals from jail because it is not rehabilitative and punishes the poor, ignores the reality that dangerous, violent criminals (primarily men) need to be in jail.

At Alliance for HOPE International, our CEO Gael Strack (a former public defender AND prosecutor) is currently tracking murders committed by criminals “while out on bail.”  At present, we are seeing a murder every ten days in the U.S. where a criminal has been released, often because of your criminal justice reform advocacy, that should have remained in jail – not because he was poor but because he was a violent, dangerous, rage-filled human being.  Do you know who the most dangerous men on the planet are?  Childhood trauma survivors who never the get the help they need as kids and go on to become rage-filled, entitled men as rapists, batterers, stranglers, and killers of police officers. Do you really think ending all drug prosecution will solve anything?  Ending the prosecution of all drug offenses, assumes that drug offenders are all non-violent and do not harm other people while abusing drugs.  This could not be further from the truth. Why not spend your money on drug prevention work including education and treatment programs? Advocate for shifting resources from the criminal justice system but don’t try to socially engineer the criminal justice system without changing the law.

Do you know what is most predictive of well-being in a person’s life?  Hope. Hope is not simply an emotion. Hope in a person’s life is measurable and cultivatable. The best way to spend your money is to mitigate childhood trauma and increase hope in people’s lives. The next time you invest millions of dollars in advocating for social change I and many others would love to see you do it with a well thought out, hope-centered business model that will allow your money to make real change.  At the beginning, start with the children impacted by trauma before they are being arrested, prosecuted, shot, or self-medicating their pain with drugs or alcohol.  That is where you can actually change the world.

With Great HOPE,

Casey Gwinn, President, Alliance for HOPE International