Palin clarifies: Let the gays join CPAC

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Sarah Palin reiterated her support for including GOProud, a self-identifying gay group, into the Conservative Political Action Conference that starts today, a rebuke to social conservatives who have actively been trying to push the organization out of the conservative movement.

In an interview on Fox News the night before the conference, Palin said she had no problem letting gay conservative groups join the annual conference, which this year is drawing thousands of attendees and more than a dozen prospective Republican presidential candidates.

“I don’t have a problem with different, diverse groups that are involved in political discourse, and having a convention to talk about what the answers are to their problems that face America,” Palin said. “We better be concentrating on what is really important and not going tit-for-tat as people are positioning themselves for 2012 and figuring out what groups is going to support whom. We better be very serious about finding solutions to the problems.”

Her statement clarified earlier remarks made last week about the conference allowing GOProud to co-sponsor the conference, which received a sharp rebuke from some social conservatives who demanded that she expand on her vague comments.

Palin, who will not attend CPAC over scheduling conflicts, joins a long list of conservative leaders who have jumped into battle over the group, which touts itself as “the only national organization of gay conservatives and their allies.”

GOProud, run out of a small English basement on Capitol Hill with just two employees and an intern, has caused a stir among conservative groups since its founding in 2009. This week marks the second year GOProud will participate at CPAC, prompting a handful of conference regulars to boycott. The groups, which include Concerned Women of America, The Media Research Center and Liberty Counsel, have explicitly cited GOProud’s involvement as a reason for sitting out this year. The feelings against GOProud run deep. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, for example, went as far as saying that “conservatives and homosexuals cannot coexist” within the movement.

All this criticism comes despite GOProud’s 2011 list of legislative priorities, which only includes one policy goal that could be labeled a “gay rights issue:” opposition to a federal marriage amendment. The other nine on the list include policy stances that could be cut and pasted from almost any other mainstream conservative group. GOProud has also roped in a number of high profile conservative supporters, including media mogul Andrew Breitbart, tax activist Grover Norquist, and Republican strategist Liz Mair, who sits on the group’s board of directors advisory council. Pundit Ann Coulter, who disagrees with the group on marriage but supports their inclusion, headlined a party GOProud sponsored last year.

The public call for a boycott began when American Principles Project founder Robert George wrote a letter in November to former American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene complaining about GOProud’s participation. The letter was co-signed by American Values, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage and argued that “inclusion of this group that stands in diametrical opposition to a core principle of conservatism made it necessary to take action.” Since then more groups have announced they will stay out and as late as this week, The Washington Times reported that around two dozen conservative leaders sent a memo to the ACU demanding groups that self-identify with gay issues be banned from the conference.

Perhaps most noticeably absent this year is The Heritage Foundation, the conservative mega think-tank with an operating budget of more than $75 million that has participated in CPAC every year for the past decade. Heritage, however, contends that GOProud is not the primary reason for staying away, citing the proliferation of new events born from the Tea Party movement during the Obama administration. The organization has taken pains to distance itself from any larger “boycott” movement and has not signed onto any official letters urging CPAC to reject GOProud.

“We’ve done CPAC over and over again and now within the last couple of years with the rise of the Tea Party movement there’s a whole new huge group of people who’ve never been that involved in public policy debates before who have conservative instincts but not real grounding,” Heritage spokesman James Weidman told The Daily Caller. “As they’ve organized, that opens up a multitude of opportunities to speak to these people.”

He added: “It would be safe to say that GOProud’s involvement was one of several groups whose involvement helped encourage us to take another look at whether this was going to be the best use of our time.”

Other Heritage employees have echoed similar concerns. In an e-mail to a donor who said he would not renew his Heritage membership over the group’s choice not to participate in CPAC, Bethany Murphy, a membership assistant at Heritage, emphasized the other events that Heritage planned to sponsor in 2011, calling CPAC just “one event” among dozens. (To put it in perspective, Heritage has more than 700,000 members who can donate as little as $25 to obtain membership.)

“The participation of the homosexual conservative group GOProud was not the determining factor in our absence,” Murphy wrote. “We at Heritage had begun reviewing our participation in CPAC long before GOProud’s increased role as a conference organizer was announced. The reason for our review was that it is no longer clear to us what form CPAC as an event is taking this year, or the next, or what core philosophies it is representing. So we decided to take a break and focus on other priorities.”

Mike Gonzalez, Heritage’s vice president of communication, told numerous newspapers, however, that the organization was staying away because of philosophical differences.

“We want to promote economic freedom, a strong national defense and social conservativism. We think these policies are indivisible,” Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not a boutique. You can’t pick one and not the other.”

In an interview with The Daily Caller, GOProud Chairman Christopher Barron said that they had no intention of trying to push away groups like Heritage by sponsoring CPAC.

“We actually want Heritage to participate,” Barron said.  “I think it’s important for Heritage to be there. We’re not trying to have a fight with Heritage.”

The calls for boycott have not extended to Republican presidential contenders, who will flood the conference this weekend. More than a dozen potential candidates, including well known social conservatives Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty, have secured speaking slots at the conference.

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