Left-wing billionaire George Soros has an inside man on the board of the Democracy Alliance.
Michael Vachon serves as the hedge fund moneyman’s personal political director, helping him to navigate the seas of partisan politics and nonprofit advocacy that have defined Soros as much as his multi-billion dollar career as a financier. Vachon also serves as his eyes and ears on the board of the shadowy Democracy Alliance.
Vachon helps to protect Soros’ investment in this association of wealthy liberals by advising on which groups are selected to receive tens of millions of dollars from Alliance members, who commit to giving $200,000 to liberal causes annually. Soros helped create the group in 2005 after he became dissatisfied with his failed $25 million effort to oust Republican President George W. Bush.
"Many [liberal] businessmen were disappointed with how their money was spent in 2004," said campaign finance expert Bradley Smith. "The Democracy Alliance gave them more options with what to do with their money, and also created more opportunities for political entrepreneurism."
The role played by Vachon in Soros’ political organization has evolved over the years. He served as a public relations and communications adviser to the billionaire’s hedge fund and philanthropic activities before moving to the coveted political director job. This has given him access to the frontline operations of the secretive Alliance, which funds liberal behemoths—including Soros-sponsored groups such as the Center for American Progress and Media Matters—as well as campaign sources such as the Obama-affiliated Super PAC, Priorities USA.
Neither Vachon nor the Alliance returned calls and emails seeking comment.
As his political director, Vachon wields more power in how Soros spends his billions than the Alliance does. While Democracy Alliance members are free to disburse their $200,000 annual dues to a select group of endorsed organizations—an arrangement that allows the group to dodge disclosure laws—Vachon chooses how to spend the 82-year-old’s political contributions. He has also played a large role in various Soros organizations, including in the financier’s own ventures with Democracy Alliance members.
Vachon serves on the board of the Institute for New Economic Thinking along with Alliance member and banking lobbyist Robert Dugger. Under Vachon’s advice, Soros has pumped nearly $4 million into the group, which seeks to counterbalance free market economic policy. He is also working to legalize narcotics on the board of the Drug Policy Alliance, headed by Democracy Alliance member Marsha Rosenbaum.
While Soros has spared no expense in financing Democratic candidates, Vachon has been stingy with the wealth he has earned from his affiliation with Soros and his lecturing job at Columbia University. He has made only one political contribution over the past 22 years, giving $250 to Barack Obama’s 2008 bid for the White House.
That does not mean he has not contributed to Obama’s reelection effort in other ways, however. In 2011, following the Republican wave in the 2010 midterm elections, Vice President Joe Biden visited the Alliance’s Washington, D.C., gathering to ask the wealthy liberals to lift their prohibition on campaign donations. Less than a year later, the board decided to allow Democratic Super PACs into its exclusive gatherings, leading founding member and liberal billionaire Peter Lewis to renounce the Alliance.
Meanwhile, Democracy Alliance membership has nearly doubled, growing from 80 members in 2005 to at least 150 in 2012.
"They made the decision because Obama can come in and say ‘listen if you don’t get on board now, then we will lose and you’re going to lose for a generation then you’ll be outside of the next administration and your world will come to an end,’" said political money expert John Samples. "It’s an effective message."
It also is a big payday for Democrats. The Democracy Alliance generated more than $100 million for liberal causes between its founding in 2005 and the 2008 election, according to the Capital Research Center.