Described by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), where she served on the board, as "a prominent Republican Party activist," Finley worked for many years as a Washington, D.C.-based Republican Party organizer and fundraiser, including as finance co-chair of the Bush-Cheney '04 reelection team.1 In April 2005, President George W. Bush nominated Julie Finley as U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); she was sworn in by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in August 2005.2 Before her political appointment as ambassador to OSCE, Finley was also involved with a number of neoconservative-aligned groups that cited democracy promotion as their core mission.
Finley was a founding member in 1996 of Bruce Jackson's U.S. Committee on NATO (USCN), a group that advocated using NATO as an instrument of U.S. military might; its motto was "Strengthen America, Secure Europe, Defend Values, Expand NATO." When USCN shut down in 2003, Finley, Jackson, and fellow USCN member Randy Scheunemann became founding members of the spin-off group Project for Transitional Democracies (PTD), which used the former USCN office space. Jackson served as president, Finley as board chair, and Scheunemann as treasurer.3 The group, which "work[ed] with the countries of New Europe to foster economic and military ties with the United States,"4 closed its doors in late 2004 or early 2005. The same trio founded the short-lived Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which was formed in 2002 in order to promote the Bush administration's vision of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and disbanded shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.5
Finley served on the Board of Directors of the quasi-governmental National Endowment for Democracy from 2001 to 2005, during which time she also served as NED treasurer;6 Vin Weber and Francis Fukuyama joined the board at the same time as Finley. The NED threw a reception in June 2003 honoring Sen. Mitch McConnell; Finley, who was serving on the NED board at the time, hosted the reception. The Project on Transitional Democracies billed the NED event on its website as "hosted by PTD Chairperson Julie Finley"—a curious billing that implies a conflict of interest between Finley's public role as NED board member and her private position with the PTD.7
Long involved in Republican Party politics, Finley was national finance co-chair of Sen. Bob Dole's (R-KS) 1996 campaign, a role she reprised in 2004 for Bush. She founded Republican Primary PAC, a now-inactive small-time political action committee that in 1998 raised $18,500 and $13,500 in 2000 for Republican candidates across the country.8 But these amounts were miniscule compared to the money she typically secured as top fundraiser for the Republican National Committee's so-called Team 100—donors who give more than $100,000.
During the 2000 presidential primary election season, the New York Times described Finley, the widow of a lawyer who was a Democrat, as "the queen of soft money—soft money being the large and unrestricted contributions that flow from the rich and powerful to the political parties, to be used for things like voter-registration drives and party advertising, much of this being barely disguised television spots for candidates."9 Finley was solidly in George W. Bush's corner in his race against Sen. John McCain, the Times reported. "Although officially neutral until the nominee is selected—by law, she raises money for the party, not for any particular presidential candidate—she tells just about anyone who asks, 'Privately, I am with Bush.'"10
In her role as OSCE ambassador, Finley "cooperates closely with host governments, local NGOs, and the international community on issues including counter-terrorism, border security, excess munitions disposal, civil emergency planning, combating intolerance, promoting free and fair elections, as well as conflict prevention and resolution."11 Her office frequently publishes statements on the need for supporting gender equality, freedom of the press, election monitoring, and combating terrorism, for example, though these releases generally fly under the broader public radar. One exception was her official response to Russia's August 2008 invasion of Georgian territory, which was widely cited in the international press. At a special session of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, Finley said, "the United States strongly condemns Russia's unilateral decision to recognize as independent the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia…. In our view, Russia's decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia again raises serious questions about its intentions vis-a-vis Georgia and in the region. This action further damages Russia's standing in the world and poses serious consequences for its relations with the United States and other countries."12
Finley was a member of Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), a group cofounded by Gale Norton that came into the media spotlight during the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal after it was discovered that Abramoff had solicited donations for the group in an effort to gain access to Norton, who was by then George W. Bush's secretary of the interior.13 A Senate report determined that CREA and four other conservative nonprofits "'perpetrated a fraud' on taxpayers by selling their clout to Abramoff." 14
In 1992, Finley was a founding member of WISH (Women in the Senate and House) List, an organization dedicated to "recruit[ing] and support[ing] pro-choice GOP women candidates for Senate, Congress, and governorships."15 The New York Times opined in 2000, "Finley is herself a moderate, and she would like to see her party show a more compassionate face to the have-nots and to shed the strident, right-wing image that has put off many female voters."16 Her pro-choice stance cost her the RNC co-chair seat in 1997.
"It may seem odd that Finley works so hard to raise soft money that in no small measure will be used to try to keep the House under the influence of those who run against homosexuals and abortion rights. But Finley has never been anything but a loyal soldier,'' the New York Times reported.17