- - Monday, June 24, 2013

Who is funding the efforts to get ex-felons registered to vote in Virginia?

Apparently it’s the George Soros-funded Tides Foundation.

The foundation has long supported felony rights restoration by writing large checks to groups that work with states to register former felons.

In the past, the foundation set up the Civic Participation Fund, which was aimed at aiding social-change organizations focused in new-majority communities that “need money, and need it fast,” the Tides website says.

The fund, formerly known as the Voter Action Fund, granted more than $8 million to advocacy groups “working to address the legal, procedural, and technological barriers to electoral participation.”

Two groups that have received funding from Tides — Advancement Project and the Virginia New Majority — are working with Virginia officials to restore felons’ voting rights, according to documents provided by the D.C.-based Capital Research Center, a nonprofit that focuses on the politics behind nonprofit operations.

The groups also are working to register the newly enfranchised voters by November, when Virginians will select a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. House of Delegates seats are also up for grabs.

“I find it alarming that a radical left-wing group has anything to do with the governor’s office,” said Matthew Vadum, senior editor of the Capital Research Center.

The Tides Foundation would not confirm that it has given money to the Virginia organizations, but tax documents filed by the groups show they received the Tides grants.

Francisco Martinez, a philanthropic adviser to the Tides Foundation, wouldn’t respond directly to questions about the groups, but said, “Throughout our history, we have supported groups in almost every state, including Virginia. Like many foundations, we fund the strongest groups that we think would have the most impact in their communities and fuel the most civic participation.”

The Advancement Project, a civil rights organization, received more than $895,000 in grants from the Tides Foundation from 2007-2011, according to documents provided by the center.

In 2011, Tides also gave $15,000 to Virginia New Majority, a civic-engagement group aimed at getting progressive voters to show up at the polls, the center said.

When Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in late May that he would automatically restore rights to non-violent felons, he also called for a full review of Virginia’s traditionally low threshold for what constitutes a violent felony.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, has been seeking input from the Advancement Project throughout the evaluation process, said Edgardo Cortes, director of the Advancement Project’s Virginia Voting Rights Restoration campaign.

The project also is assisting to help the state with its lack of a comprehensive database by providing a hotline for felons to call and get their contact information relayed to the governor’s office.

“I think we have been doing a lot to help provide information to the state so they can figure out the real world implications of what they’re setting up,” Mr. Cortes said. “Hopefully this can impact and restore rights to the greatest number of people as possible.”

The Advancement Project has been working in tandem with its statewide partner, Virginia New Majority, to ensure the highest number of previously disenfranchised people can use the newly automated system, Mr. Cortes said.

In a news release celebrating Mr. McDonnell’s announcement as a victory, the Virginia New Majority said the group was to have statewide voter registration drives to ensure that each newly enfranchised voter could cast his ballot in the November elections.

An estimated 350,000 people are ineligible to vote in the state because of a felony conviction. About 100,000 of those would be eligible for automatic rights restoration, according to the governor’s office.

The estimates come from the Sentencing Project, which conducted a felon disenfranchisement impact study based on 2010 U.S. Census information. The study was funded in part by the Tides Foundation.

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