Two months before polls open, the race for Henry County district attorney appears to be over after progressive activist George Soros spent $100,000 to support his pick in the race, Democrat Darius Pattillo, who’s being called the first black DA in the county.
“This race has taken a turn of events that I could not have predicted,” said Pattillo.
Republican Matthew McCord has dropped out. In an emailed statement, McCord said he doesn’t think he has a shot against Soros’s cash, and he’s worried about personal attacks on himself and his family.
Soros’ spending appears to be part of his push for criminal justice reform around the country. The website Politico reported in August, Soros is paying out at least $3 million around to support minority candidates in local DA races.
The money comes through an independent committee that is barred from coordinating with Pattillo’s campaign. It was first uncovered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
So far the committee, called Georgia Safety & Justice, has paid out a total of $91,104, according to disclosures.
It’s sent $46,000 to Crossroads Consulting Inc. in Washington D.C, $6,500 to Grindstone Research LLP in Kentucky, among others.
Pattillo says he didn’t know about the spending, he hasn’t independently confirmed it’s come in, and he won’t be influenced by Soros.
“I will look at every case on a case-by-case basis, and I will prosecute the cases in a just way,” he said.
But there are doubts in Henry County on both sides.
“People are saying that Darius is going to be a puppet in his seat as district attorney,” said Asia Ashley of the Henry Daily Herald.
And comments on the local paper’s Facebook page raise questions about McCord’s reason for dropping out.
“A skeleton in his closet he feared exposed? A bribe to get him to quit?” read one comment.
McCord declined repeated requests to respond to those claims.
What’s happened in Henry County isn’t that unusual said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a campaign finance expert at Stetson Law School and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.
She said outside money from the left and right upends races around the country, and in DA races it can undermine public trust in the criminal justice system.
“There is a worry about the impact of money and politics on the prosecutorial discretion that is used by these attorneys who represent the public,” said Torres-Spelliscy.
She questioned Soros’ apparent strategy for criminal justice reform.
“If you have a thoughtful district attorney who happens to be white, that may be much better than having a district attorney who happens to be African-American but is also totally in the pocket of a particular political donor,” Torres-Spelliscy said.
Soros’ foundation did not respond to inquiries.
For his part, Pattillo said even though he’s the only guy left in the race, he still wants to meet as many voters as possible before November.
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