Kathryn Kolbert, a longtime advocate for abortion rights and other liberal causes, has resigned as president of People for the American Way.
Kolbert, whom the organization hired a year ago to succeed longtime president Ralph Neas, says she and the organization’s board wanted to go in different directions. Her sudden departure also comes amid a strained financial situation for the group, perhaps best known for its high-profile campaigns against conservative nominees to the Supreme Court.
“The direction the board wanted to go and the direction I wanted to go were not compatible,” Kolbert says. She declined to elaborate on the differences and says she’s proud of her work there, including emphasizing the importance of legal issues during the 2008 election campaigns.
Her last day was March 24, though the organization did not announce her resignation then. Kolbert says she plans to pursue interests in constitutional law, the media, and entrepreneurship. She says she’s not sure whether she’ll end up in Washington or in Philadelphia, where she has kept a home.
Ron Feldman, co-chair of People for the American Way’s foundation board, says Kolbert left voluntarily. He also says there are no plans for a shift in strategic direction. “This change does not indicate any great problems within the organization,” he says.
But Feldman acknowledges the group has been forced to cut its budget “dramatically” because of falling revenue during the recession. “We felt some real financial strain even before the election cycle. I think other organizations probably felt it as well,” he says. “We came through that really fine, but we made a decision before that that we had to rethink our finances: how much we could do and how much that should cost us — and what we might be able to do without and what we might want to do bigger.”
Kolbert previously worked for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and for the American Civil Liberties Union. She helped found the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, now the Center for Reproductive Rights, and she successfully argued in favor of abortion rights in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.
Michael Keegan, a board member at People for the American Way since 1994, will serve as interim president of the group and its related foundation. He was a founding national board member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and has worked for Columbia Pictures, according to a news release.
The transition comes at an inopportune time for the group. The Senate is just beginning confirmation proceedings for President Barack Obama’s first nominees to the federal judiciary, an area that has traditionally been a top priority for People for the American Way. That won’t change, Feldman says: “We really want to have a place and a voice, and we have that interest as strongly as ever.”