By Michele Hanisee
After the Supreme court decided Citizens United, special interest dark money flooded political campaigns. District Attorney races, traditionally non-partisan, non-political, were not spared from this onslaught. Eighteen months ago we wrote about an example of this problem. Special interest groups, funded by George Soros, pumped millions of dollars into district attorney races across the county. Their mission was to use Soros’s wealth to radically reshape the criminal justice system.
Rather than engaging the electorate by having an open debate about the criminal justice system, these special interest groups sought to circumvent the entire democratic process by electing candidates who refused to enforce laws passed by the people and their representatives. An odd approach for the man who funds the so-called “Open Society Foundations,” an organization whose stated mission is to “to build vibrant and inclusive democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.”
The results of these efforts have been mixed. California voters, for the most part, rejected past attempts to buy their elections. Certain DA elections on the East Coast did not fare as well. In Monroe County, New York, the district attorney beat back the $800,000 Soros dropped against her and cruised to re-election and then jokingly thanked Soros for her victory.
The infusion of dark money in these races, usually in the final months before a primary or general election, makes a huge impact. District attorney elections are typically minimally funded, local races. The last-minute spending by these PACs leaves opposing candidates with scant time to raise a corresponding amount of cash to respond.
>With respect to qualifications, these dark-money-candidates typically have no prosecution background and little understanding of the higher ethical standards to which prosecutors are bound. Worse, they bring a highly charged political viewpoint to an office that is supposed to be apolitical.<
In Los Angeles County, we can expect big money to be spent on the District Attorney’s race. George Gascon will attract Soros PAC money by promising not to enforce the laws that voters enacted. Gascon, however, will need to answer for his track record. San Francisco’s property crime rate was twice as high as Los Angeles’ during his tenure. Gascon’s policies have earned San Francisco the distinction of having the highest property crime rate of America’s 20 largest cities. Gascon’s approach to theft crimes is a driving force behind the high crime rate. On streets where the boundary line was between San Francisco County and San Mateo County, thieves would commit car burglaries on the San Francisco side of the border because they would face less punishment. That legacy is likely what recently caused the Mayor and City Attorney of San Francisco to endorse incumbent District Attorney, Jackie Lacey, over Gascon.
The race for Los Angeles District Attorney is going to be a hard-fought campaign with two very different perspectives. Jackie Lacey, endorsed by the ADDA, is an experienced, career prosecutor with a record of reforming the justice system while keeping crime at historically low rates. She has kept politics out of the DA’s office and respected the rule of law. Gascon, on the other hand, is running on a promise of “turning our court system upside down.” Not only is this reckless, it is antidemocratic. We are confident that the voters of Los Angeles County will elect the district attorney they deserve, not the one special interest can buy.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.