- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A small Washington-based organization that advocates restricting personal property rights and the travel privileges of federal judges has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years from left-wing billionaire George Soros.

The Community Rights Counsel, which opposes private funding of federal judicial seminars as a way of getting corrupting money out of politics, has received $250,000 from Mr. Soros since 2003, according to publicly disclosed figures. The CRC describes private funding of judicial seminars as “special-interest money,” but says there is nothing morally wrong with their group accepting money from Mr. Soros or his Open Society Institute.

In 2004, Mr. Soros said he was willing to spend his entire personal fortune to defeat President Bush and has donated millions to various liberal causes, including MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress.

“They were very small and didn’t start out as a political advocacy group,” Bob Huberty, executive vice president of the Capital Research Center, a conservative think tank, said of the Community Rights Counsel. “If you’re getting $250,000 from someone, that’s significant.”

However, Community Rights Counsel founder and Executive Director Douglas T. Kendall describes his group as receiving a “drop in the bucket,” when compared to Mr. Soros’ other beneficiaries. “The Open Society Institute has a long record of being concerned about judicial independence,” Mr. Kendall said.

Most recently, Community Rights Counsel has been involved in the effort to ban federal judges from attending legal seminars that receive their funding from corporations and private citizens. One of the group’s main targets has been George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center.

The federal judiciary recently voluntarily agreed to require all federal judges to disclose how much money they accept for such trips and who has provided the funding. In addition, judges will now be required to install software on their computers, which will alert them to potential conflicts of interest before accepting cases. “This is not an issue for us, we’re happy to disclose,” said Frank Buckley, director of the GMU Law and Economics Center.

“This represents a step forward,” Mr. Kendall said. “They’ve recognized there can be a problem with private funding of federal judiciary seminars.”

However, Mr. Kendall said his group supports a proposal by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, that would ban privately funded trips altogether. Instead, Mr. Leahy’s plan would establish federal funding to pay for such trips. Critics of the proposal, including American Bar Association President Michael Greco, say that would threaten the federal judiciary’s independence from Congress and the White House.

Mr. Buckley rejected Community Rights Counsel’s criticism, saying that George Mason explicitly prohibits seminars on any topics deemed controversial.

“We ask our instructors to stay away from hot-button topics, and they do so,” he said. “They are purely academic, not political.”

Mr. Kendall was less critical when asked about the Aspen Institute, another group that privately funds legal seminars.

“They have a much more balanced profile,” Mr. Kendall said, while adding that his group nonetheless favors banning all privately funded trips.

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