Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, about the controversy surrounding the inclusion of GOProud at CPAC and the subsequent boycotts from a handful of social-conservativism organizations, most prominently the Family Research Council.  Keene discussed the controversy at length, as well as the revelation that the ACU had initiated a probe into possible embezzlement that got aired in part because of the boycott over GOProud’s inclusion as a participating group.

The FRC made a somewhat veiled mention of the embezzlement investigation in its statement on the boycott citing “the organization’s financial mismanagement” as one reason for its withdrawal.  WND wrote about the charge in more detail, noting that it involved Keene’s ex-wife, from whom Keene had been divorced for “about a dozen years.”  Keene acknowledged that the investigation took place based on indications first shown to him a year earlier that “a significant amount” of money had disappeared over several years.  Keene says that he immediately notified the board, arranged for an outside probe into the irregularities by hiring a former US attorney to consult and run the investigation, and then recused himself from any participation in it.  His only connection to the probe from that point was as a board member, and when the board chose to turn the matter over to law enforcement, he supported their decision.  The investigation has moved from state to federal authorities, Keene says, but he has no information on where the matter rests at the moment.

The departure of FRC from the conference doesn’t appear to have Keene worried or even resentful.  Keene says that Tony Perkins “has legitimate differences” in this situation, and that while he’d prefer that the FRC participate for obvious reasons, says that groups come and go from CPAC for many different reasons.  He noted that FRC has its own successful Values Voters Summit conference series, in which Keene has participated, and many other groups hold their own conferences as well.  The ACU encourages groups to do so, as Keene says, because “the real value [in conferences] is in networking,” and that more of it produces better results. Keene declined to criticize the FRC for its choice, and told me that “Tony Perkins has done a great job over there,”  and also noted that Perkins understood how difficult it can be to deal with unfair attacks, especially after “the crap from the Southern Poverty Law Center,” which infamously branded the FRC as a hate group.

I asked Keene about whether Heritage Foundation had decided to participate, having heard while in town that they may be backing out.  Keene has not heard one way or the other at this point, and believes they are still considering their participation.

The controversy has not dented the momentum for CPAC a bit, Keene says.  Attendance at last year’s CPAC broke records even with a similar boycott in place from GOProud’s initial inclusion as a participating group.  This year’s registrations are at the same level as last year’s at this point of days before the event, and last year CPAC had already announced Glenn Beck as their featured speaker and had experienced a big spike in registrations.  (Keene didn’t say when CPAC would announce this year’s speaker.)  Last year, CPAC had 103 participating groups and sponsors, and so far in 2011, CPAC has confirmed 117.  They have had no problem lining up speakers, Keene says, and predicts that this will break last year’s attendance records.

For the record, the FRC says that it is not “boycotting” CPAC, but simply have declined to participate, as Keene also characterizes it:

That said, we are not “boycotting” CPAC. We’re simply not participating. FRC has chosen not to partner with a “conservative” event that places the protection of marriage on the same plane as redefining it. Would CPAC team up with the Brady Campaign which fights to restrict–if not abolish–the Second Amendment? Would it collaborate with groups who promote doubling capital gains taxes? Regardless of what CPAC organizers may believe, conservatives and homosexual activists cannot coexist in a movement predicated on social values. This has nothing to do with whether individual homosexuals should be allowed to attend CPAC, or whether they are capable of holding conservative positions on some issues. We recognize that some organizations represented at CPAC are silent on the issue of homosexuality. But organizations whose whole reason for existence is to promote the forced public affirmation of homosexual conduct should not be welcomed at CPAC, because that is not-by any stretch of the imagination-a “conservative” agenda. By allying itself with liberal social organizations, ACU is abandoning at least a third of the conservative movement.

Our participation in CPAC–or lack of it–has absolutely no bearing on our ability to love and dialogue with people who disagree with us. As I’ve said before, we’ll debate the other side on issues like marriage anytime–anywhere. But the suggestion that conservatives should debate marriage on our own turf is demeaning and downright deceptive. This is a fundamental principle that shouldn’t be up for debate in any conservative gathering. If the policy is not up for discussion, why foster the impression? If it is, then make that clear upfront. This is a matter of basic integrity. Other coalition members, who question the wisdom of our stand, should realize that this is a fight for more than social values. If marriage is fair game at CPAC, which issues are not? Limited government? National security? Social, economic, and defense conservatism form an integrated and indivisible whole.

Reaching out to new allies is a worthy goal, but not at the cost of driving a deep wedge in the movement that was unified to bring change to Washington this fall. Some of our friends have criticized FRC’s decision by drawing the scriptural parallel of Jesus eating with sinners. But this isn’t Jesus eating with sinners–it’s Jesus partnering with them to open a restaurant! My friend, the late Adrian Rogers, said it best: ” It is not love and it is not friendship if we fail to declare the whole counsel of God. It is better to be hated for telling the truth than to be loved for telling a lie… It is better to stand alone with the truth than to be wrong with a multitude.”