By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — A self-proclaimed nonpartisan Kansas organization has defended contributions it received from billionaire liberal donor George Soros, and said such donations haven’t given the group a partisan slant.
Dolores Furtado, a target=”_blank” href=”http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Dolores_Furtado”>former Democratic state legislator and president of the target=”_blank” href=”http://lwvk.org/index.html”>League of Women Voters in Kansas, said financial contributions from a pair of non-profits backed by Soros – the Open Society Institute and the Tides Foundation – haven’t colored the organization’s recent objections to changes in Kansas’ judicial nomination process.
The Kansas LOWV was among the groups to voice objection at Gov. Sam Brownback’s initial refusal to divulge the names of potential nominees, and the governor’s office recently denied an open records request for the information from LOWV. Releasing the names of nominees was common practice for more than 30 years under the previous merit-based judicial appointment system, but it’s no longer required by state law according to the new federal-style process.
A Kansas Watchdog investigation revealed that in recent years the LOWV’s national non-profit, the League of Women Voters Education Fund, has received upwards of $735,000 from Soros-backed organizations. But Furtado said it’s more a sign of the times than of a partisan slant.
“I am perfectly aware of a lot of non-profits having to resort to applying for grants in order to finance and support their efforts in doing the work they want to do,” Furtado said. “And I’m not aware at all of it being a politically driven, and therefor politics having dominated the project. I’m not influenced by that.”
But if outside money from ultra-liberal organizations isn’t causing a slant, the personal politics of state LOWV members could. Several of the state organization’s leaders are Democratic politicos or contributors.
An examination of campaign contributions by target=”_blank” href=”http://www.lwvk.org/contact.html”>state LOWV leaders showed that Furtado and treasurer Lenore Rowe contributed a combined $3,450 to state and national Democratic candidates in recent years. Also, national LOWV vice president Janis McMillen of Overland Park has contributed $1,250 to national Democratic candidates and organizations. However, it’s worth noting that in 2008 state LOWV board member Jill Quigley donated $250 to Republicans Lynn Jenkins and John McCain.
But Kansas isn’t the first to implement this method of judicial selection. Five other states – including blue states like California and Massachusetts – as well as the federal government appoint judges in a similar manner. However Furtado said she isn’t interested in expanding criticism beyond state borders.
Another organization to have its motives brought into question is target=”_blank” href=”http://www.justiceatstake.org/”>Justice at Stake. Based in Washington, D.C., JAS also bills itself as nonpartisan, and says it exists to ensure a fair, impartial and independent judiciary. But while JAS was quick to criticize Brownback’s decision, they’ve lobbed few (if any) stones at the White House or other states for similar practices.
Since 2006, Soros’ OSI has given more than $2.4 million to JAS.
JAS executive director target=”_blank” href=”http://www.justiceatstake.org/about/jas_staff/bert-brandenburg-executive-director/”>Bert Brandenburg (who’s currently on sabbatical) has worked for Democratic Attorney General Janet Reno, the Progressive Policy Institute and the 1992 Clinton-Gore presidential campaign. His second-in-command and current acting executive director, target=”_blank” href=”http://www.justiceatstake.org/about/jas_staff/liz-seaton-deputy-director-for-policy-and-advocacy/”>Liz Seaton, has ties to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Constitution Society, the Human Rights Campaign and the board of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. We also discovered that Seaton has previously donated $1,700 to President Barack Obama.
Seaton did not return calls for comment from Kansas Watchdog.
Related: target=”_blank” href=”http://watchdog.org/94483/soros-bankrolls-non-partisan-critics-of-kansas-governor/”>Soros bankrolls ‘nonpartisan’ critics of Kansas governor
Related: target=”_blank” href=”http://watchdog.org/94254/brownback-follows-in-federal-footsteps-on-judicial-selection/”>Kansas governor follows in federal footsteps on judicial selection
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