Billionaire George Soros is investing heavily in Central Florida, backing several down-ballot races with support for Democratic candidates

Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel reports Soros, a well-known champion of liberal causes, spent $430,000 on United for Progress PAC for mailers and paid TV ads in a variety of races — from U.S. House to the Orange County Commission.

United for Progress Chair Juan Marcos Vilar would not detail Soros’ involvement, but he did say the committee is working in parts of Central Florida with a relatively strong Puerto Rican population.

“United for Progress is dedicated to highlighting what is at stake for the Puerto Rican community in our state … and the policy priorities that elected officials should consider for Puerto Ricans in Florida and on the island,” Vilar told the Sentinel in an email.

Through various progressive groups — including and the Center for American Progress — Soros had previously been focused on the top of the ticket. In 2004, he spent $23.5 million in the campaign against then-President George W. Bush.

Although this year Soros has given millions to support Hillary Clinton, he has also invested in several down-ballot state and local races.

Rohrer writes this focus on smaller campaigns is already having an effect. With $1.4 million going to a group called Florida Safety & Justice, Soros had a hand in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary upset of Aramis Ayala over incumbent Orange-Osceola state attorney Jeff Ashton.

“Soros’ money could help put other Democrats over the top in tight races,” Rohrer says. “Being outspent is often cited by Democrats as a reason for defeat, so any infusion of unexpected funds is welcome.”

Another House seat benefiting from United for Progress is Osceola County’s HD 42, with Democrat Benny Valentin facing incumbent Republican Rep. Mike La Rosa.

Valentin raised $7,000 so far, with minimal help from the Florida Democratic Party. In contrast, La Rosa has garnered nearly $207,000, spending $129,000 through Oct. 21.

United for Progress also helped pay for mailers in House District 47, where Republican Rep. Mike Miller is running against Democrat Beth Tuura. As of Oct. 21, Miller has raised $333,000, spending most of it in the general election; Tuura has raised $111,000, much of which went to her primary campaign.

A United for Progress mailer targeted Miller for his 2015 vote on fracking in Florida. Miller explains he voted for the bill without reviewing it first, pointing out that he voted against a similar bill the following year.

“This is just an attempt by a liberal special interest group from out of state that is trying to influence an election,” Miller told the Sentinel, adding that he doesn’t think Soros is familiar with local issues.

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