Club for Growth won’t criticize Chambliss if he bucks anti-tax pledge

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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The conservative Club for Growth will not criticize Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss for bucking his pledge against raising taxes, The Daily Caller has learned.

The Club endorsed Chambliss in a 2008 runoff election against Democrat Jim Martin. The group did not endorse Chambliss in the general election, however.

Chambliss is one of several Republicans breaking from conservative principles under pressure from the Democratic Party, the White House and the media. He recently told a Georgia television station that he “care[s] more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.”

Chambliss is referring to the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) pledge that a majority of congressional Republicans have signed — a promise that they will never vote to increase marginal income tax rates. The pledge is also an agreement not to eliminate tax deductions and credits unless they’re matched dollar for dollar with tax rate cuts.

ATR president Grover Norquist rolled out the pledge in 1986 with the support of then-President Ronald Reagan.

“If we do it his [Norquist’s] way, then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that,” Chambliss said in the interview.

The Club for Growth has promoted itself as the enforcer among congressional Republicans who appear to be straying from their conservative principles. During recent “fiscal cliff” talks, the organization pumped out press releases touting media praise as the one group that can — and will — bring the hammer down on Republicans who crack.

“Norquist is a bit of a media creation,” NBC’s Chuck Todd said Tuesday, a quote the Club sent out to media. “Remember this: He’s an easily digestible symbol of ideological purity. But the people who actually police that purity are groups like [the] anti-tax, pro-economic growth Club for Growth.”

The Club similarly touted a quote from CBS’s Brian Montopoli, praising its power as a third-party conservative group.

“The Club for Growth, for example, spent $10 million against Republicans in the 2012 cycle,” Montopoli said Wednesday. “The group is powerful enough that when West Virginia GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced she was seeking a 2014 Senate seat, a statement by its president criticizing Capito for ‘a long record of support of bailouts, pork and bigger government’ generated headlines.”

But when asked if the Club has any comment on Chambliss — a candidate it supported in 2008 — breaking with Republicans on taxes, spokesman Barney Keller demurred. “We are not really focused on the day-to-day rhetoric of individual lawmakers,” Keller said in an email.

TheDC pressed Keller on why a group that touts itself as an enforcer is not enforcing conservatism. Keller said the Club does not enforce “with words.”

“We do that with Action,” Keller said. “Specifically, Club for Growth Action, our Super-PAC.”

“We don’t score rhetoric on our scorecard,” Keller said. “We score votes. And we look at our scorecard when determining whether or not to get involved in a race. We don’t care about what people say. We care about what people do.”

When asked if the Club is prepared to target Chambliss if he breaks and votes the way he says he will — against tax-policy conservatism — Keller again deflected the question.

“We review the entirety of a candidate’s record, along well as several other factors, before making a determination to endorse in a race,” he said.

The Club has, however, placed the other prominent GOP senator who has split with the GOP on taxes — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — at the top of its target list for 2014, the same year Chambliss is up for re-election.

“If you’re looking to the horizon of 2014,” Club for Growth president Chris Chocola said at a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast, “the sun may rise over South Carolina.”

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