American Conservative Union Board Voted Twice on Giving Homosexual Group Planning Role in CPAC: First Vote Was Tie, Chairman Won’t Reveal Second Tally

December 23, 2010 - 5:06 PM

David Keene and George W. Bush

American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene and President George W. Bush at the 2008 CPAC on Feb. 8, 2008. (White House photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The board of the American Conservative Union—an organization known for monitoring the votes of members of Congress and then scoring those votes according to how they accord with the organization’s views of conservatism—held two votes of its own, via email, on whether to give GOProud, a homosexual Republican group, a planning role in the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Members of the board were told that the first email vote was a 14-14 tie, according to board member Morton Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute. This week, ACU Chairman David Keene informed board members by e-mail that in the second vote the board had approved making GOProud a “participating organization” in CPAC, a role that will allow the homosexual activist group to take part in planning meetings and recommending speakers for the event.

Keene, however, did not inform board members, nor is he saying publicly, what the actual tally was on the second vote.

“That’s all internal ACU information that we don’t comment on,” Keene told CNSNews.com. Keene did confirm, however, that the board did hold two votes, that the first vote was a tie, and that the second was a win for GOProud.

Keene, who served as national political director for the 1980 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush (when the senior Bush ran against Ronald Reagan), said that to exclude a group like GOProud from CPAC now would be like excluding pro-life groups from CPAC back in the early 1970s, when, Keene said, “most conservatives were pro-choice on the life question.”

Board member Blackwell, meanwhile, is sharply critical not only of the ACU’s decision to give GOProud a planning role in CPAC but also of the non-transparent manner in which the decision was made.

“This issue was clearly of such importance to the organization and to the movement that we should have had an in-person meeting where we could all discuss it and vote in a way that how we voted would be known to all the members of the board,” Blackwell told CNSNews.com.

“I certainly wouldn’t know how to verify the vote,” Blackwell said.

“As far as I know, except for people like me who are willing to say how they voted, there has been no disclosure of how the different people voted,” Blackwell said.

CNSNews.com tried to reach each member of the ACU’s 31-member board on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Many of these members did not respond to calls or e-mails or declined to talk about the matter on the record. Before today, the only board member who went on the record with CNSNews.com to state how he voted was Ron Robinson, president of the Young America’s Foundation, who also opposed GOProud’s participation.

Keene said the ACU used email to decide the GOProud issue because it did not have a board meeting scheduled. “We didn’t have a board meeting scheduled,” he told CNSNews.com. “We often get the opinions of the board by e-mail.”

The annual CPAC conference in Washington, D.C. draws conservatives from across the country and includes speeches by Republican presidential candidates, Republican members Congress, GOP governors, and conservative writers and activists.

Blackwell said the first vote on whether to make GOProud a “participating organization” in CPAC, and thus give it a planning role in the event, was a 14-14 tie, which means three members of the 31-member board did not vote. Blackwell said he had no idea what the final tally on the second vote was because Keene merely informed board members by e-mail on Tuesday that GOProud’s role had been approved.

Keene counters that he believes the matter was sufficiently debated among ACU board members and that Blackwell “did not request a board meeting.”

“There was a great deal of discussion by e-mail. I think it was handled as well as could be expected,” Keene said.

GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia told CNSNews.com this week that the organization is excited to be part of CPAC and said, “I stand by our conservative record. I’ll put our conservative credentials against anybody’s.”

GOProud advocates some views that conservatives generally share such as lower taxes, a strong national defense and defense of the Second Amendment. However, the group opposes a federal marriage amendment and most recently was an outspoken advocate for repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law banning homosexuals from the military. After the Senate voted on Saturday to repeal that law, LaSalvia said in a statement: “GOProud is thankful to every Senator, regardless of party affiliation, who voted for repeal.”

In a July 27 commentary in The Advocate, a homosexual newspaper, GOProud Chairman Chris Barron wrote about his personal support for same-sex marriage while advocating that homosexual activists focus on other things in the near-term.

The gay lobby’s “pursuit of marriage at all costs, at [sic] often at the expense of other legislation that would improve the lives of average gay Americans, is one of the most serious strategic and political blunders in modern history,” Barron wrote.

But, he said, “Before the left accuses me of selling out the fight for marriage, let me make it clear--marriage is important and I support marriage rights for gay couples. I believe marriage is a debate worth having and a fight worth fighting. Marriage is certainly personally important to me--in March of this year, I married my partner here in Washington, D.C. That having been said, we aren’t anywhere close to marriage equality nationwide and we won’t be for a very long time. Why should immediate improvements to retirement security, tax fairness and healthcare for gay and lesbian families be ignored?”

Keene said that the ACU is not involved in approving or disapproving of all the views of every CPAC participating organization.

“We’ve only in the history of the conference disallowed one group from coming in and that was an overtly racist group that wanted a booth to advertise racism,” Keene said. “CPAC is supposed to be inclusive. You’ve got libertarians, social conservatives, defense conservatives, all of the rest that are in there. To begin restricting people is in my view a serious mistake.”

“ACU and most organizations in the movement are against gay marriage,” said Keene. “GOProud doesn’t take a position on that.”

Keene also said that if conservatives had excluded groups they disagreed with on some issues back in an earlier era in the movement, pro-life groups might have been banned from CPAC.

“If you go back into the history of the conservative movement in the early days of CPAC, most conservatives were pro-choice on the life question,” Keene said. “Debates took place at CPAC and that changed. And now most conservatives are pro-life. Perhaps if we approached it this way, back in the early 1970s, the pro-choice people would have banned the pro-life people. I don’t think that that’s a smart way to go about running either a philosophical or a political movement. We’re not afraid of ideas. We’re willing to discuss ideas. Most conservatives know what it is that they believe in. Most conservatives share the bulk of views of other conservatives on defense, economic and social questions.”

Blackwell says formally associating GOProud with CPAC will hurt CPAC.

“I do not believe that any organization which is grossly offensive to any major element of the conservative movement should be formally affiliated with CPAC,” Blackwell said. “There’s got to be good judgment involved because you can’t do three pages of what is grossly offensive means or what a major element of movement conservatism means. There’s got to be good judgment. In my judgment, there was not good judgment in this case.”

“I have no doubt this will damage CPAC in the eyes of people who have been working for years to create a winning coalition composed of economic conservatives and social issue conservatives,” Blackwell added.

On Nov. 15, the American Principles Project, a conservative organization founded by Princeton Prof. Robert George, wrote an open letter to Keene stating that the organization would not be participating in CPAC because of GOProud's involvement. The letter explained why APP believed it was wrong to have a group that opposes a core principle of the conservative cause as a core participant in what is presented to the public as a hallmark conservative event.

“We believe that, in general, the conservative movement is strengthened by the presence within it of organizations that give priority to particular, even single, issues,” said the letter signed by APP President Frank Cannon. “It is not necessary for each group within a political movement to embrace the fullness of a detailed and defined philosophy. But it is necessary for each group within any coherent movement not to stand in diametrical opposition to one or more of its core principles. It is our conviction that the institution of marriage and the family qualify—historically, philosophically and empirically—as such core principles. An organization committed to the ultimate abandonment of the legal and social meaning of marriage by definition disqualifies itself from recognition as a partner in the conservative cause.”

“GOProud states prominently on its web site that it supports a ‘traditional conservative agenda’ that includes ‘limited government,’ ‘individual liberty,’ ‘free markets,’ and a ‘confident foreign policy,’” said the APP letter. “This is a traditional conservative agenda, minus one--traditional values. The issue is not that GOProud works on only four of the five traditional items on the conservative agenda--rather, it omits--because it actively opposes--one part of the core. It is no more acceptable as a participant at CPAC than a group that said it embraced the ‘traditional conservative agenda’ but actively worked for higher taxes and greater governmental control of the economy."

Blackwell, for his part, believes Keene should have viewed the initial tie vote by the ACU board as a message not to associate CPAC with GOProud.

“Let me say this, there’s no doubt in my mind some members voted the way they did because they were simply supporting Chairman David Keene,” Blackwell said. “The fact that half of his board initially voted against him should have been sufficient for him to realize that he was making a mistake. I certainly wished he had taken that as an indication he had been wrong. But, it’s more difficult for David than it is for other people to admit that they are wrong.”

Board member Robinson, of the Young America’s Foundation, like Blackwell, said he opposed giving GOProud a planning role in the 2011 CPAC.

“We have had over the years at CPAC a cross section I’m sure that are gay, others have brought up divorcees, adulterers, whatever. I’m sure the normal mix of speakers CPAC has had in 30 years has had all kinds,” Robinson told CNSNews.com. “I’m not looking at doing a background check on everyone that is speaking at CPAC. On the other hand, I think it’s probably wise to put the emphasis on ACU, Young America’s Foundation and others, Heritage Foundation in the past that has sponsored CPAC rather than the fringe groups like GOProud, the John Birch Society, ACLU.”

ACU board member Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee, would not tell CNSNews.com how he voted on GOProud’s role in CPAC, but said, “I’m a very libertarian oriented individual and believe that we--ACU and CPAC--should be as open and tolerant with anyone who wants to participate with us and shares our views,” Uhler told CNSNews.com. “We should be open with anyone who shares our views as the objectives we are trying to achieve.”