District attorney candidates Geneviéve Jones-Wright, left, and Summer Stephan.(Courtesy: Geneviéve Jones-Wright and Summer Stephan campaigns)
District attorney candidates Geneviéve Jones-Wright, left, and Summer Stephan. (Courtesy Geneviéve Jones-Wright and Summer Stephan campaigns)
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A political action committee funded by billionaire investor George Soros has spent $402,000 to support San Diego County district attorney candidate Geneviéve Jones-Wright. That’s more than double what the deputy public defender has fundraised for her own campaign.

Soros has been the sole donor to the PAC, called California Justice & Public Safety, since at least January. On Thursday, Soros gave the PAC $1.5 million, and on that same day, the PAC spent almost $195,000 on television airtime and video production costs to support Jones-Wright in her bid to unseat interim District Attorney Summer Stephan. The next day, it spent $100,000 on digital advertising and another $107,000 on mailings for Jones-Wright.

“This much money is very unusual for a local race like this, particularly out-of-district money,” Carl Luna, a San Diego Mesa College political science professor, said Monday. “Outside of Congress, you don’t see races like this attracting that much money.”

The expenditures far exceed any other money in the district attorney’s race so far, and more money is expected to flow into the race over the next month. County voters started casting mail-in ballots on Monday for the June 5 election. Because there are only two district attorney candidates, the winner will be decided in June.

Interim District Attorney Summer Stephan, who the Board of Supervisors appointed to finish former DA Bonnie Dumanis’ term, has raised about $485,000 for her campaign. Jones-Wright has raised $205,000 — about half of what Soros PAC has spent on getting her elected.

But Stephan has more money in the bank than her opponent. As of April 21, Stephan had $161,000 compared to Jones-Wright’s $114,000.

Like her challenger, Stephan is receiving outside help with her campaign. A PAC sponsored by the Deputy DA’s association has spent more than $227,000 on commercials, mailers and signs to support Stephan, including $25,000 on Friday for a media buy. The PAC also spent $4,960 on Wednesday for video advertising to oppose Jones-Wright.

In a statement to inewsource, Jones-Wright said she is “thrilled to have the support of one of the most generous and progressive donors in the country.”

“Criminal justice reform is getting the attention it deserves as a life and death issue for communities,” she said. “The people of San Diego County deserve an elected DA, not a selected DA, and an honest conversation about the issues of criminal justice.”

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Since 2015, Soros-funded PACs have spent more than $10 million to support progressive district attorney candidates around the country. This year, the California Justice PAC has contributed to at least three other DA candidates in the state: Diana Becton in Contra Costa County, Pamela Price in Alameda County and Noah Phillips in Sacramento County.

Stephan’s campaign spokesman, Jason Roe, said Soros’ fundraising is influencing the race.

“The reason he’s been so effective is that he overwhelms local candidates’ ability to raise money with his vast wealth. So he swoops in with seven-figure donations and independent expenditure committees, and candidates just can’t raise that kind of money to keep up with him and that’s how he’s stealing races,” Roe told inewsource.

Roe said the campaign has been preparing for Soros to get involved for over a year. Last week, Stephan’s campaign created threattosandiego.com, a website calling Jones-Wright an “anti-law enforcement candidate” and saying Soros is “trying to tip the balance to the criminals.”

“Voters should know that we are talking about someone with an agenda that is not in their best interest, that does not live here, is trying to trick them into voting against their own safety,” Roe said.

Another outside fundraiser in the DA’s race is the REAL Justice PAC, which funds criminal justice reform candidates for district attorney around the country. That PAC has spent more than $32,000 reaching out to voters in support of Jones-Wright.

All this money funneling into the DA’s race comes eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that case, the court ruled that outside groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money if they do not coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.

“The upside of getting that out-of-the-district money is you’ve got money, but you don’t control it. And so now you’re forced to defend things,” political science professor Luna said. “You don’t want to have to make arguments you may not want to argue. And it drives even local, nonpartisan officials more into the partisan fringe, which is probably not good for a little town like San Diego that just wants to meet in the middle.”

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