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$1.45 million Soros investment in Philly DA's race draws heat for Krasner

Billionaire George Soros has invested in a political action committee backing civil rights attorney Larry Krasner for district attorney. Does that make Krasner the front-runner?

In a traditional race for district attorney in Philadelphia, Michael Untermeyer and Joe Khan would be at the head of the pack while the other five candidates in the May 16 Democratic primary election would be trying to catch them.

This is not a traditional race for district attorney.

Untermeyer, a former city and state prosecutor, would have been big news. Finance reports filed Friday show he loaned his campaign $400,000 in late April, bringing his overall investment since December to $950,000. And Khan, a former city and federal prosecutor who has led in fund-raising from individual donors, reported $435,955 in his campaign account as of last Monday.

That all was overwhelmed by a $1.45 million check, written by billionaire George Soros on April 28 and reported Friday, to fund an independent political action committee backing Larry Krasner.

Soros changed the game. And that realigned the targets.

Untermeyer had been the only candidate targeted — by Khan — for traditional negative political attention, for running for DA in 2009 as a Republican.

Now Krasner, who has made his lack of prosecutorial experience a highlight of his campaign, is taking the heat.

Consider what happened Friday when 6ABC taped a DA candidate roundtable, which airs from 11 a.m. to noon Sunday.

Jack O'Neill, a former assistant district attorney backed by a local independent PAC funded by building trades union cash, used his closing remarks to criticize Krasner for serving as defense attorney for people accused of sexual assault and murder.

That was a departure from what had been a mostly collegial race, with the candidates usually reaching consensus on most issues of how to reform the District Attorney's Office and the city's criminal justice system.

"His career makes the people who advocate for victims of murder and sexual assault really nervous about the prospect that he could be the DA," O'Neill said later of Krasner

Krasner, who has been identified in news reports as a civil rights lawyer because of his high-profile work in that area, later pointed out that his law firm also uses the civil courts to seek money for victims after prosecutors attain guilty verdicts but don't seek restitution.

And Krasner noted that he was injured in a violent mugging 10 years ago and that his home has been burglarized twice.

"The notion that I have no empathy or sympathy for victims is a comic book," Krasner said. "Just like there are some prosecutors who will do anything for a win, which is the reason I'm running, there are some candidates who will do anything to win a campaign."

The Soros money, invested in a PAC called Philadelphia Justice & Public Safety, is being used for television commercials, campaign literature, and online ads, and to pay for people to canvass neighborhoods to speak with voters.

O'Neill is supported by the Building a Better Pennsylvania Fund, a PAC launched in 2014 by Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other building trades unions. That PAC on Friday reported spending $144,340 in the last week to create and air television commercials.

The tagline on those commercials is that O'Neill is "owned by nobody."

Local 98, usually deeply involved in Democratic politics in the city, has not endorsed a candidate for district attorney.

The Inquirer and Daily News reported last week that federal investigators, already known to be looking into Local 98, were probing the $6,400 the union spent in 2015 to pay for summer camps abroad for the daughters of District Attorney Seth Williams.

Williams was indicted in March on 23 federal counts, accused of accepting $34,145 in bribes from two businessmen and stealing $20,319 meant for the care of his elderly mother.

Krasner on Friday reported raising $99,858 from March 28 to May 1 and spending $119,494 in that time, leaving him with $106,564 in the bank.

Like O'Neill, that type of fund-raising would not have made Krasner very competitive in an election with a traditionally low voter turnout, for which expensive television ads are crucial.

A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows independent PACs to spend beyond the city's contribution limits for this race of $6,000 for individuals and $23,800 for political action committees as long as they don't coordinate with candidates or campaigns.

Rich Negrin, former city managing director, reported raising $160,745 from March 28 to May 1, and spending $288,161, leaving him with $61,704 in the bank.

Tariq El-Shabazz, who until February was first assistant district attorney, raised $39,241 and spent $18,851, leaving $30,814 in his campaign account on May 1.

And former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni raised $41,700, spent $31,779, and had $104,732 in the bank.

As of Friday, El-Shabazz and Deni were the only candidates who had not aired campaign commercials on television.