David Keene And The American Conservative Union Scandal: Before FedEx, There Was Immigration
July 19, 2009, 05:00 AM
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Also by Ellison Lodge: Can Tancredo Make Immigration A Litmus Test For GOP?

"[I]it is now undeniable that the American Conservative Movement, the flower of Free World and the true hero of the Cold War, has ended in utter failure", wrote VDARE.COM's Peter Brimelow in his reflections on this year's Conservative Political Action Conference. He added:

"None of this was remotely in evidence at CPAC (except unofficially in ancillary gatherings and down in the Exhibit Hall). The leadership appeared fat and happy. Quite literally—down in the audience, I was astonished at the lateral expansion of old friends up on the podium whom I'd not seen for some years, like the host, the American Conservative Union's David Keene…"

Well, we now know more about what might have been driving Keene's lateral expansion. To paraphrase social philosopher Eric Hoffer: "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket." Any doubt that the America's conservative movement isn't well into Phase Three has been dispelled by the news that CPAC's sponsor, Keene's American Conservative Union, recently attempted pay-for-play with FedEx.

Currently UPS and FedEx are at war over some minor legislation involving union regulation. Conservatives shouldn't have a stake in this fight one way or the other. Neither company cares about the free market. They support and oppose regulation based on what suits their bottom line, and harms their competitor, at any given time. Turns out the same can be said of the ACU.

The Politico webzine broke the story July 17 by publishing a leaked letter from ACU vice president Dennis Whitfield offering support FedEx's legislation for the modest sum of $2,147,550. [Exclusive: Conservative group offers support for $2M, By Mike Allen]

Among the services offered in the letter:

  • "Leading a coalition of center-Right organizations and think-tanks in support of FedEx's issues and concerns to maximize resources, efforts and impact."

  • "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.)"

  • "Emailing the identified voter activists, in 5 rounds, in order to educate them on the issue(s) and to urge them to call their Senators based on key dates. The ACU would include the phone number of their personal Senators directly in the correspondence."

In fact, the $2.1 million was just the basic package. Other services from the ACU went up to $3.4 million.

FedEx did not respond to the offer. And two weeks later ACU Chairman David Keene's name with ACU's logo appeared on a letter directed to FedEx president Fred Smith, telling him he supported rival UPS's position and asking the company to stop its anti-UPS "Brown Bailout" campaign with the painfully cheesy conclusion, "To paraphrase the words of Ronald Reagan, 'Mr. Smith, tear down this website.'"

Caught red-handed, the ACU quickly issued a press release claiming that David Keene was only signing on as an individual, not a representative of the organization, and that its own support of FedEx—based wholly on conservative principles, of course, not financial contributions—was unchanged.

Keene's letter did indeed include the disclaimer "Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only". There's only one problem: Op Eds by Keene were part of the package deal offered to FedEx!

In the last few years, after the Republican Party began losing elections, all the D.C. conservative movement leaders began talking about how the movement had to get back to principles, blah blah blah. But of course the corruption endemic to the GOP went straight to the conservative movement. Jack Abramoff would pay op-ed columnists like Doug Bandow to write about his pet causes, and show up to Grover Norquist's "Center Right" Wednesday morning meetings offering goodies to organizations who supported his clients.

Despite the talk about getting back to principles, nothing was changing. At one of Norquist's meetings last year, a former ACU vice president turned corporate lobbyist gave a long lecture on how giving a tanker contract to Northrop Grumman was a conservative cause.

A charitable cynic might say that the pay-for-play lobbying in the conservative movement is just smart politics. We might not care about the feud between FedEx and UPS or Abramoff issues like trade relations with the Marshall Islands or the tax-exempt status of the Choctaw Indian tribe, but the money we get for promoting these causes helps fund important advocacy on issues like immigration enforcement.

This, however, is like the high-class call girl who begins by whoring herself through med school, but ends up walking the streets for crack. Abramoff's causes included Puerto Rican statehood—and even worse teaming up with Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed to sabotage the Jordan Commission's immigration reforms. When Congressman Mike Pence introduced his amnesty, hand-written by horse farmer and conservative donor Helen Krieble's minions, David Keene was quick to jump on, writing a column in The Hill—the same one he offered to sell to FedEx—endorsing Pence's amnesty as "an alternative that could attract support from reasonable men and women on both sides of the debate"

At the same time, Keene was sending direct mail letters asking for money from patriotic Americans who "think the government should be deporting illegal lawbreakers instead of rolling out the red carpet for them."

In February, the Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR] produced an important study analyzing immigration lobbyists. [Who's Lobbying on Immigration? by Eric Ruark, pdf.] In addition to the Amnesty Bills of 2006 and 2007, it also looked at bills dealing with E-Verify and enforcement. A whopping 98% of 521 businesses and organizations who lobbied on immigration opposed enforcement and supported amnesty. The pro-amnesty groups spent a grand total of 345 million dollars on lobbying (though in fairness, not all of that money went to promoting amnesty directly.) Only ten lobbyists opposed amnesty and they were not corporate lobbyists but member-funded patriotic immigration reform advocacy groups like FAIR, US Border Patrol, Numbers USA, and the American Legion.

The closer the conservative movement's ties to lobbyists, the less we can expect from them on immigration.

In 2003, ACU Vice Chairman Don Devine did not give enough standing ovations  at then-President George Bush's address to the organization. David Keene wrote a public letter to Devine claiming "you have done incalculable damage to ACU and I hope you will have the good grace to resign your position as Vice-Chairman. If you don't, I can assure you that I will ask the Board to consider removing you at our June meeting". To add insult to injury he added "I no longer consider you…a personal friend".

Don't expect Keene to resign over the FedEx fiasco. At the most, V-P Whitefield might have to take the fall, with a generous severance package, and go back to his old job as a corporate lobbyist.

But it goes without saying that Keene and Whitfield committed much more "incalculable damage" to the ACU and the conservative movement as a whole than Devine's decision to stand up (or sit down) against George Bush and for conservative principles.

More specifically, the FedEx fiasco confirms Peter Brimelow's speculation, in his article on the ACU's 2009 CPAC mentioned in my first sentence, about why the Conservative Establishment as presently constituted can never deal with America's mounting immigration disaster: as he put it bluntly, "pressure from funders".

Ellison Lodge (email him) works on Capitol Hill.