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Billionaire George Soros now a player in Philly DA race

A new independent expenditure group with strong ties to the billionaire has registered in Philadelphia and plans to get involved in the May 16 Democratic primary election for district attorney.

The Democratic primary election for district attorney in Philadelphia, already crowded with seven candidates, added another significant player Tuesday.

Billionaire George Soros has arrived. And he plans to spend a significant chunk of change to support one of the seven candidates, civil-rights attorney Larry Krasner.

A group calling itself Philadelphia Justice and Public Safety filed a political committee registration statement Tuesday — three weeks before the May 16 primary — with the city's Board of Elections.

The group, as a political action committee, can spend above and beyond the city's campaign finance limits as long as it does not coordinate efforts with any candidate or campaign.

A media buyer, unaffiliated with any of the campaigns for district attorney, said Philadelphia Justice and Public Safety is listed as spending $280,000 in campaign commercials on broadcast and cable television channels in the city for a week, starting Wednesday.

Krasner called the filing "interesting news" and said he had not heard about it until a call from a reporter.

Tuesday's filing does not mention Soros by name. But the new group filed with the same Washington address for the law firm Perkins Coie that Soros-backed political action committees have used in other states.

The treasurer of the new group, Whitney Tymas, is known to have visited Philadelphia to meet with potential candidates for district attorney late last year. Tymas has served as treasurer for other Soros-backed groups with similar missions.

Tymas, who also serves as president of a related national political nonprofit established Feb. 22 as Justice & Safety PAC, responded Tuesday to questions with a brief statement.

"Philadelphia Justice and Public Safety is supporting Larry Krasner for district attorney because of his commitment to public safety and criminal justice reform," said Tymas, who declined to say how much the group would spend to support Krasner's election.

Krasner declined to say in February, when the Inquirer and Daily News first reported on Soros' interest in the race, if Tymas was among the representatives from "national progressive groups" who had interviewed him.

On Tuesday, Krasner's campaign acknowledged that he met with Tymas, "as he's met with a lot of people who are concerned about changing our criminal justice system."

Soros can afford to make a big splash with cash in the race, where just one candidate, Michael Untermeyer, has started airing campaign commercials on television.

Untermeyer, a real-estate developer who previously worked as a city and state prosecutor, has lent his campaign $550,000 since December, making him the front-runner for fund-raising.

Untermeyer's self-funding triggered a clause to double the city's current campaign finance limits, raising them to $6,000 for individuals and $23,800 for political action committees.

The Forbes 2017 list of world billionaires ranks Soros in the 29th spot, with an estimated net worth of $25.2 billion.

Soros in 2016 donated $6.9 million to a political nonprofit, Safety and Justice, and $530,000 to a federal independent expenditure political action committee with the same name.

Those groups then funded political action committees with similar names in several states, paying for advertising to support candidates for district attorney and sheriff.