George Soros has donated almost $5bn (£3bn) over the years to help emerging democracies in Eastern Europe recover from the shadow of tyranny. Now he is applying the same principles, and a large chunk of his fortune, to the United States, where he believes the defeat of George Bush in next year's presidential election is "a matter of life and death".
So far, he has spent more than $15m: two-thirds of it going to a liberal-leaning group called America Coming Together, which intends to mobilise voters in battleground states next November; $3m of it going to a new Washington think-tank run by Bill Clinton's former chief of staff, John Podesta; and $2.5m to the passionately anti-Bush internet lobbying group MoveOn.org, to help pay for television advertisements attacking the President.
Political donations on this scale have precedents. On the right, figures such as Richard Mellon Scaife and Howard Ahmanson have given hundreds of millions of dollars over several decades on political projects both high (setting up the Heritage Foundation think-tank, the driving engine of the Reagan presidency) and low (bankrolling investigations into President Clinton's sexual indiscretions and the suicide of the White House insider Vincent Foster).
But on the left it is almost unheard of. Mr Soros has given money to political campaigns before - $122,000 in the 2000 elections alone. This, though, is very different. In recent interviews he has likened the with-us-or-against-us rhetoric of the Bush administration to the political language of Nazi Germany. And in a forthcoming book, The Bubble of American Supremacy, he argues that the destructive arrogance of the White House, in Iraq and elsewhere, is like an overheating of the stock market that must and will be corrected.
The Hungarian born financier and philanthropist describes the Bush administration's policies as a crude form of social Darwinism. "I call it crude because it ignores the role of co-operation in the survival of the fittest, and puts all the emphasis on competition." And he explains why the current administration is so much at odds with the driving ideology of his worldwide Open Society Institute. "The supremacist ideology of the Bush Administration stands in opposition to the principles of an open society, which recognise that people have different views and that nobody is in possession of the ultimate truth," he writes. "When President Bush says, as he does frequently, that freedom will prevail, he means that America will prevail. In a free and open society, people are supposed to decide for themselves what they mean by freedom and democracy, and not simply follow America's lead ... A chasm has opened between America and the rest of the world."
Unlike other critics who have made casual comparisons between the Bush White House and the Nazis, Mr Soros speaks with some authority - he survived the German occupation of Budapest as a boy.
That has not deterred prominent Republicans from hooting with indignation, or from accusing him of hypocrisy because Mr Soros has been a champion of campaign finance reform intended to keep big-money donations out of politics. "It's incredibly ironic that George Soros is trying to create a more open society by using an unregulated, under-the-radar-screen, shadowy, soft-money group to do it," the Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said recently. The Washington Post has similar reservations, writing in a recent editorial: "Wasn't the whole point of the new campaign finance law to get big checks of this kind out of politics? Are these huge donations healthy for small-d democracy, not just big-D Democrats?" Mr Soros's response seems to be: I will do whatever it takes, if the result is defeat for President Bush.
If the Republicans are alarmed, it is partly because the Soros donations are part of a new form of political activism on the left, one that takes advantage of the internet. MoveOn.org, with its 1.8 million members, has proved it can raise millions of dollars in days for a liberal cause and act as a counterweight to political organisations, including the Democratic Party leadership.Reuse content