ACU puts conservatism up for sale?

posted at 11:36 am on July 17, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

When we said that conservatives needed to do a better job selling the philosophy of limited government and fiscal responsibility, this isn’t exactly what we meant.  According to Politico, the American Conservative Union attempted to get Federal Express to pay millions of dollars to engage the ACU on their behalf over a political fight with UPS on legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill.  The ACU’s executive vice-president Dennis Whitfield told FedEx that the ACU stood foursquare against the bill, which would have made it easier for unions to organize at individual FedEx facilities.  When FedEx took a pass on the offer, the ACU reversed itself and aligned with UPS instead:

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group’s endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

For the $2 million+, ACU offered a range of services that included: “Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and / or other members of the ACU’s board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)”

The conservative group’s remarkable demand — black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as “pay for play” — was contained in a private letter to FedEx that was provided to POLITICO. …

In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. Rebuffed, the group signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS.

FedEx and UPS, fierce competitors in the package delivery business, are at war over a provision under consideration in Congress that would expand union power at FedEx.

FedEx currently has one U.S. union contract for its entire express business. Under a change passed by the House and awaiting action in the Senate, FedEx — like UPS — would have to negotiate union contracts for individual locations, which FedEx claims would make it much more difficult to promise worldwide regularity for deliveries.

The ACU sponsors the largest annual gathering of conservative activists in the nation, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).  I’ve attended three times, and it serves as both a social support and a strategic-planning forum for activists on the Right.  That’s the kind of salesmanship we need for conservative values.

If Politico has this right, and they have the letter on their website, this is exactly what we don’t need.  Their offer in writing contains nothing but their support for the fight against this bill.  The ACU’s eventual public position — that FedEx has been “misleading the public and legislators” — only came after FedEx refused to pay the ACU over $2 million for their services.  That looks a lot less like a principled position, and a lot more like sour grapes, or the business end of an extortion attempt.  Someone has misled the public in this instance, and it doesn’t appear to be either FedEx or UPS.

The range of services offered calls into question the integrity of the entire organization.  Does the ACU normally offer its public commentary for rent?  Who else has paid for endorsements in David Keene’s columns, or those of the ACU board members?  It would be also fair to ask Keene or the board knew of Whitfield’s proposal before it went out, although it would be difficult to imagine that Whitfield could have offered so much in services for that much compensation without having approval from Keene and/or the board in the first place.  The ACU’s about-face on the issue right after FedEx’s refusal would be difficult to explain as well.

I e-mailed Whitfield and left a voice mail message with the ACU seeking a response on this article.  When I receive it, I’ll add it to this post.

Update: Via James Joyner, Whitfield has issued an e-mailed press release (which I haven’t received and is not yet on the ACU website), which he quotes in part:

Mr. David Keene’s name was on a letter prepared by another organization.  This was a personal decision on his part and he was not representing ACU at the time.  No permission was given by ACU, and no logo was provided by ACU, to the organization who issued the letter in question.

ACU’s policy position on this issue has not changed and it will not change.

ACU’s positions on important policy issues have never been for sale.

ACU does not support moving businesses under the jurisdiction of the NLRB or expanding the federal government’s power, reach or authority under the NLRB.

That doesn’t address the issue, however.  Whitfield offered Keene’s column as a venue for opposing the NLRB expansion that would benefit UPS.  After FedEx refused to pay Whitfield $2 million, Keene took a public position opposite that of the organization he heads — and that’s just a coincidence?  And why was Whitfield offering Keene’s column for sale in the first place?

This is a distraction from the main issue.

Update II: I now have the full statement, thanks to the ACU:

The following statement is being issued by ACU Executive Vice President Dennis Whitfield due to Politico’s unverified accusations contained in an article and a false headline editors chose to publish today regarding the NLRB:

“An article containing a false headline has been published by Capitol Hill newspaper Politico today regarding an issue with expansion of the National Labor Relations Board.

This article concerns two letters; one issued by ACU and another issued by a separate organization.

Mr. David Keene’s name was on a letter prepared by another organization.  This was a personal decision on his part and he was not representing ACU at the time.  No permission was given by ACU, and no logo was provided by ACU, to the organization who issued the letter in question.

ACU’s policy position on this issue has not changed and it will not change.

ACU’s positions on important policy issues have never been for sale.

ACU does not support moving businesses under the jurisdiction of the NLRB or expanding the federal government’s power, reach or authority under the NLRB.

In fact, as we pointed out last year when auto bailouts were first proposed, the actions of organized labor in Detroit helped lead to a downfall of America’s storied auto industry.  This is a clear example of what can happen when organized labor extends its fingers too far into American business.

In this regard, ACU stands with the policy that FedEx should not be placed under the NLRB.

This was ACU policy – before and after – any letters in question were drafted.

No contributions, to date, regarding this issue have been given or promised to ACU from any organization mentioned in the Politico article.

ACU is happy to receive support from individuals and organizations that support our policy objectives and we will continue to do so.”

- DENNIS E. WHITFIELD, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT ACU

This still doesn’t answer the issues raised by Whitfield’s letter to FedEx.  Whitfield calls the Politico story “false,” but note that he never denies writing the letter to FedEx that promised that Keene would write supportive columns for FedEx’s position if they paid the ACU more than $2 million.  That’s not “receiv[ing] support from individuals and organizations,” that’s selling a service.  It certainly left FedEx with the impression that they could buy Keene’s public support, and when he acted (either as an individual or as head of the ACU) to oppose their position after FedEx declined to cough up $2 million, it looks a lot like Keene decided to exact a little revenge for FedEx’s decision.

The ACU needs a better explanation than this, in light of Whitfield’s letter.  If they admit that Whitfield wrote it, then people should know which Keene columns were prompted by payments and which were not, as well as their board’s actions.

Update III: I put up a picture from CPAC that showed Rep. Paul Ryan, who has nothing at all to do with this story (the ACU sponsors CPAC, as noted above).  I replaced it with a picture of David Keene, and I apologize to Rep. Ryan.

Update IV: National Review reported on Keene’s pay-for-play activities in 2003.


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I’m not seeing the scandal here. The $2 million looks like it was to cover the cost of various direct-marketing efforts:

For the activist contact portion of the plan we will contact over 150,000 people per state multiple times at a cost of $1.39 per name or $2,147,550 to implement the entire program.

The Keene article was mentioned separately and there is no indication that it was included in the “activist contact portion of the plan”. If Keene has subsequently come out with a contradictory opinion, that is a problem, but I don’t see that it is Whitfield’s problem. What am I missing here?

JackOfClubs on July 17, 2009 at 1:22 PM

So Keene is a lobbyist who markets conservative politics as well as a leader within the ACU.

Sue him for wearing more than one hat. He hasn’t stuck a lobby feather in his ACU hat.

No surprise that Politico would fabricate a story in order to smear Keene, and have the gall to blame Dennis Whitfield.

No surprise at all since it’s Politico’s modus operandi to fabricate whole cloth AND MARKET IT, jumping the gun just to be first.

“If” being the byword.

maverick muse on July 17, 2009 at 1:25 PM

Moderator asked Palin if she supports capping carbon emissions and her answer was, “I do. I do.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WykvUyUuLo

JA on July 17, 2009 at 1:20 PM

Cap and Trade was mentioned? I don’t think so. Cap and Trade is the establishment of a financial mechanism to determine the price of carbon emission. You can cap carbon emissions this way (by regulating the supply), but there are other ways to cap carbon emissions…. such as an outright consumer tax (jack up prices at the pump) or through technology. The fact that you don’t understand what Cap and Trade is disqualifies you from this debate.

BPD on July 17, 2009 at 1:27 PM

This is a picture-perfect example of a greedy group selling out those it represents. Way to go ACU. You bunch of hypocritical weasels just gave the looney libtards a whole box of ammunition to use against us and America.

Dark-Star on July 17, 2009 at 1:30 PM

Part of the problem with the delivery business: FedEx and UPS are allowed to spend many millions of dollars per year on lobbying, to get the laws that regulate the Post Office written to prevent the PO from full competition. As a quasi-governmental agency (which receives zero tax dollars, is fully self funded), the PO can spend zero dollars to do the same lobbying efforts. The result? We are hobbled.

bikermailman on July 17, 2009 at 1:31 PM

Oh, and regarding the post? Yeah, thanks, ACU. A whole lot.

bikermailman on July 17, 2009 at 1:32 PM

Cap and Trade was mentioned? I don’t think so. Cap and Trade is the establishment of a financial mechanism to determine the price of carbon emission. You can cap carbon emissions this way (by regulating the supply), but there are other ways to cap carbon emissions…. such as an outright consumer tax (jack up prices at the pump) or through technology. The fact that you don’t understand what Cap and Trade is disqualifies you from this debate.

BPD on July 17, 2009 at 1:27 PM

How about the Couric interview when Palin said that McCain has a “good cap and trade policy”? It’s right there in the transcript.

JA on July 17, 2009 at 1:40 PM

Cap and Trade was mentioned? I don’t think so. Cap and Trade is the establishment of a financial mechanism to determine the price of carbon emission. You can cap carbon emissions this way (by regulating the supply), but there are other ways to cap carbon emissions…. such as an outright consumer tax (jack up prices at the pump) or through technology. The fact that you don’t understand what Cap and Trade is disqualifies you from this debate.

Time for context, here’s the full quote from Ifill:
Q: Let me clear something up: Sen. McCain has said he supports caps on carbon emissions. Sen. Obama has said he supports clean coal technology, which I don’t believe you’ve always supported. Do you support capping carbon emissions?

John McCain’s position on Capping Carbon emissions:
“We need a successor to Kyoto, a cap-and-trade system that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner.”

So yes, she was supporting cap-and-trade. Another fun tidbit, here’s her ‘new’ position on cap-and-trade:
“There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn’t lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive!”

It going to get harder and harder to pretend Palin is anything more than a hot dimwit who brings in the cash from desperate republican so-cons. Keep rolling with Palin, and we keep marginalizing conservatism that really can win.

Ahh a Lion on July 17, 2009 at 1:42 PM

How about the Couric interview when Palin said that McCain has a “good cap and trade policy”? It’s right there in the transcript.

JA on July 17, 2009 at 1:40 PM

This also disqualifies you from the debate. The Couric interview doesn’t exist and never happened, the Couric interview was all CGI graphics, kind of like the nonexistent planes that hit the WTC, they just like Palin in the Couric interview were nothing but holograms.

If you want to know what Palin really thinks about Cap and Trade go to the Washpost pieces that reads nothing like how she sounds, that’s how you know its authentic.

LevStrauss on July 17, 2009 at 1:50 PM

Does the ACU normally offer its public commentary for rent? Who else has paid for endorsements in David Keene’s columns, or those of the ACU board members?

Mitt Romney. Keane has been trashing Palin very hard lately.

promachus on July 17, 2009 at 1:53 PM

Ahh a Lion on July 17, 2009 at 1:42 PM

As a VP candidate, she was supposed to go along with Mccain’s positions. she already publicly differed with him about ANWR.

promachus on July 17, 2009 at 1:55 PM

As a VP candidate, she was supposed to go along with Mccain’s positions. she already publicly differed with him about ANWR.

promachus on July 17, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Right, and because she was corrupt in putting aside her principles to further her political career, she now has the specter of her support for cap and trade and TARP to follow her around. Don’t put your trust in Palin unless ignoring reality is one of your strong suits.

Ahh a Lion on July 17, 2009 at 2:02 PM

As a VP candidate, she was supposed to go along with Mccain’s positions. she already publicly differed with him about ANWR.

promachus on July 17, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Stop making lame excuses for her. A staunch conservative with strongly held principles would not go along with McCain on cap and trade just to have a shot at being VP.

JA on July 17, 2009 at 2:05 PM

thread’s been hijacked

maverick muse on July 17, 2009 at 2:13 PM

Was Keene speaking for the ACU or himself when he slammed Palin last week?

Amadeus on July 17, 2009 at 2:14 PM

Politico pieces, Allen v. Thrush, all the difference in the world.

maverick muse on July 17, 2009 at 2:17 PM

JA on July 17, 2009 at 2:05 PM

I suppose the staunch conservative would also sit in his home and never go anywhere. Stop making excuses yourself.

promachus on July 17, 2009 at 2:19 PM

I suppose the staunch conservative would also sit in his home and never go anywhere. Stop making excuses yourself.

promachus on July 17, 2009 at 2:19 PM

Huh? What does that even mean?

JA on July 17, 2009 at 2:24 PM

It means that Palin was the bottom of the ticket and that she had to defend McSame’s jackalopery like cap and trade and other affronteries to sanity.

Stop fronting for Mittens. Nobody’s fooled.

victor82 on July 17, 2009 at 2:49 PM

As a VP candidate, she was supposed to go along with Mccain’s positions. she already publicly differed with him about ANWR.

promachus on July 17, 2009 at 1:55 PM

Stop making lame excuses for her. A staunch conservative with strongly held principles would not go along with McCain on cap and trade just to have a shot at being VP.

JA on July 17, 2009 at 2:05 PM

Still trying to make excuses for the Vichyite Quislings at the ACU who gave money to Arlen Specter by attacking Sarah Palin?

I bet if we look real close, we’ll find that Keene gave money to Lincoln Chaffee. I bet if we keep looking, we’ll find that Keene paid protection to Rahm.

Keep up the front work for Mittens: the State Run Media’s Candidate!

victor82 on July 17, 2009 at 2:54 PM

http://www.newsmax.com/kessler/sarah_palin_cpac/2009/07/09/233604.html

“Sarah Palin needs to stop whining about unfair media coverage and get over the fact that some people don’t like her, Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, tells Newsmax. “

the_nile on July 17, 2009 at 3:03 PM

Speaking of Keene and his attack piece on SP, Stole this from C4P:

To have this man denounce you is an honor. Way to go, Sarah Palin. Once again, you’re making the right enemies.

I couldn’t agree more.

Amadeus on July 17, 2009 at 3:05 PM

Mittens on Abortion:

“I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard.”
Boston Herald Debate, 10/29/02

“Roe v. Wade continues to work its destructive logic throughout our society This can’t continue.”
Speech to the Massachusetts Citizens For Life Mother’s Day Pioneer Valley Dinner, 5/10/07

Mittens on Guns:

“We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts; I support them. I won’t chip away at them; I believe they protect us and provide for our safety.”
Romney in 2002 gov. debate, Boston Globe, 1/14/07

“I have a gun of my own. I go hunting myself. I’m a member of the NRA and believe firmly in the right to bear arms.”
Boston Globe, 1/14/07

Mittens on Reagan:

“I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”
Boston Herald, 10/27/94

“Ronald Reagan is … my hero. … I believe that our party’s ascendancy began with Ronald Reagan’s brand of visionary and courageous leadership.”
Boston Globe, 1/19/07

Yay, lets all vote for Mittens, a principled conservative!
/sarc

Norwegian on July 17, 2009 at 3:11 PM

David Keene is a slimeball who would betray the conservative movement in a nano-second if it put an extra buck in his pocket.

He is the poster boy for what’s wrong with the establishment leadership in the GOP and the conservative movement.

bw222 on July 17, 2009 at 3:53 PM

Yay, lets all vote for Mittens, a principled conservative!
/sarc

Norwegian on July 17, 2009 at 3:11 PM

Looks like he always got an opinion you can agree with.

the_nile on July 17, 2009 at 3:59 PM

Mitt Romney. Keane has been trashing Palin very hard lately.

promachus on July 17, 2009 at 1:53 PM

Hm

True_King on July 17, 2009 at 4:04 PM

Stop making lame excuses for her. A staunch conservative with strongly held principles would not go along with McCain on cap and trade just to have a shot at being VP.

JA on July 17, 2009 at 2:05 PM

A staunch conservative with strongly held positions on anything would never support Mittens.

bw222 on July 17, 2009 at 4:08 PM

You Palin fans are just like Obamabots. When confronted with a reality that you don’t like, you immediately attempt to divert attention by attacking someone else.

I’m not “fronting for Mittens”, whatever that means. I’m just not really silly like you guys.

JA on July 17, 2009 at 4:08 PM

With friends like Keene…

I thought conservatives, especially ones that head up a conservitave organization, had more principal. Thanks for handing the left a big club to beat us with. I don’t have a problem if he wants to lobby but the ACU needs someone that walks the walk. To paraphrase Lynard Skynard, “A conservative man don’t need him around anyhow.” Time to dump him.

crusader1145 on July 17, 2009 at 4:25 PM

Kick them to the curb. Now.

Knowing what they are, I surely wouldn’t invest a dime in them, or pay any attention to their ‘bought and paid for’ opinions.

I expect this from the Left. I won’t tolerate it from the Right. Totally unacceptable mercenary behavior.

jefferson101 on July 17, 2009 at 4:50 PM

You Palin fans are just like Obamabots. When confronted with a reality that you don’t like, you immediately attempt to divert attention by attacking someone else. JA on July 17, 2009 at 4:08 PM

Hmmm looks like numbJA turtle just got hoisted on his own petard:

“When confronted with a reality that you don’t like, you immediately attempt to divert attention by attacking someone else.”

BANG!

Leaving the unfortunate electoral success of the “Obamabots” aside…

I’d recommend that you disingenuous “mittens” agents return to your Mitty mansions with a WARNING about the predictable fate of the stone throwing glass house dwellers.

“Let’s Roll”

On Watch on July 17, 2009 at 6:11 PM

On Watch on July 17, 2009 at 6:11 PM

Now I’m a “mittens agent” with a “mitty mansion”?

Love the dweeby “Let’s Roll” slogan. It brings to mind those unfortunate guys in high school who liked to talk big but couldn’t get a girl to save their lives.

Seriously, thanks for providing some laughs. You Palin fans are too much!

JA on July 17, 2009 at 6:35 PM

Yay, lets all vote for Mittens, a principled conservative!
/sarc

Norwegian on July 17, 2009 at 3:11 PM

Yeah! We don’t want no stinking converts, especially not that B Movie Yokel Ronald Wilson Reagan.

BKennedy on July 18, 2009 at 12:47 AM

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