A Reluctant Open Letter To The American Conservative Union: Fire David Keene

I consider the American Conservative Union to generally be a force for good. I also have generally liked David Keene, the head of the ACU. However, after this story, the credibility of the ACU is now dependent on firing him,

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

For the $2 million plus, 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, which was provided to POLITICO.

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The letter exposes the practice by some political interest groups of taking stands not for reasons of pure principle, as their members and supporters might assume, but also in part because a sponsor is paying big money.

In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. After FedEx says it rejected the offer, Keene signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS. Keene did not return a message left on his cell phone.

Now, if the ACU had merely gone to FedEx and said that it supported their position, but wanted some money to actively get out there on their behalf, I can’t say that I’d have a big problem with that. There are more issues than time and somebody has got to the pay the bills for a group like the ACU.

However, to offer to “strongly support” the FedEx position and then, after they refuse to pay up, to have the chairman of the ACU sign onto a letter endorsing the opposite view — it gives the impression that the support of the ACU is for sale. Maybe there is some innocent explanation for it, but it looks extremely inappropriate and extremely sleazy — and that’s coming from someone who’s favorably inclined towards the ACU.

Now, there is an ACU Response to this,

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 other words, the ACU still supports the FedEx position, quietly, although the President of the organization signed on to the opposite position publicly, which gave people exactly the opposite impression. Sorry, but that doesn’t change anything.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here’s the choice that the ACU has: either David Keene goes or the credibility of the ACU goes — one or the other.

PS: One of the services that would have been provided for FedEx had they paid up, would have been for Keene to write a column taking their position. I have to tell you that I strongly suspect that is not an uncommon practice. For example, I have been offered money to write columns about a certain subject. I wouldn’t have had to lie or change my views to write the column, but I declined because I thought it would have been unethical not to disclose that info and it would have undercut my credibility to admit that I was paid by an outside group to write about a subject of their choosing. However, I have no doubt that it goes on all the time.

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