CPAC’s big, gay headache

Vince Coglianese Editorial Director
Font Size:

CPAC has a GOProud problem.

The small, but outspoken, gay conservative group just won’t go away, despite the best efforts of some of the conservative leaders behind the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

The American Conservative Union (ACU), whose board grants access to the annual summit, began barring GOProud as a co-sponsor in 2012 — after welcoming the organization in 2010 and 2011.

But why was GOProud barred from CPAC sponsorship in the first place? That depends on who you ask.

GOProud ‘Did Not Act Properly as Guests’

ACU Chairman Al Cardenas addressed the question in a radio interview on Friday, attributing their exclusion to “over-the-top” behavior.

“We have always welcomed gay participants and registrants to CPAC and have given them a warm welcome,” Cardenas told WMAL’s Brian Wilson and Larry O’Connor Friday morning. “From time to time there are organizations or individuals who we think go over the top when they are guests at CPAC, and for years we’ve decided not to invite them again for the following year, given that particular set of circumstances.”

“Last year, they had been invited and there were three groups that we felt did not act properly as guests. They had press conferences criticizing some of our board members — some things of that nature — and look, the board took a vote. It was not unanimous, by the way, but the board took a vote to not invite them. It wasn’t a permanent ban, but for the time being, that’s what the board did. And incidentally, they voted to not invite a couple of other groups as well. So, that’s where we are.”

Tempers between the ACU and GOProud reached a boiling point in the days leading up to the 2011 conference.

Longtime ACU chairman — and GOProud supporter — David Keene stepped down from his post two days before the conference to become president of the National Rifle Association.

In the next 24 hours, GOProud co-founder Chris Barron told Metro Weekly that ACU board member and social conservative Cleta Mitchell was a “nasty bigot” for her continued efforts to rally other board members to expel the group.

Barron also knocked The Heritage Foundation and then-South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint — now Heritage’s president — for boycotting CPAC over the group. “They’re all excited that Jim DeMint is boycotting. And that’s fantastic,” he said then.”I’m glad that he’s willing to be on the Island of Political Misfit Toys with [World Net Daily’s Joseph] Farah and the Concerned Women for America.”

Barron would quickly apologize for the remarks, but among conservative critics, the damage had been done.

“GOProud has taken one of the favorite leftist bullet points and brought it straight into CPAC. You oppose affirmative action? You’re a racist. You oppose gay marriage? You’re a bigot,” wrote RedState’s Erick Erickson.

And at the American Spectator, Quinn Hillyer wrote, “To be clear, the problem with Christopher Barron isn’t that he’s homosexual. The problem with Christopher Barron is that he’s a flaming jerk.”

‘It’s Because We’re Gay’

Fast forward to present day and Barron insists that CPAC merely used the Metro Weekly quote as an excuse to exclude a gay organization.

“I think that’s the hook that Al Cardenas is hanging his hat on,” Barron told The Daily Caller in a phone interview.

TheDC has learned that members of the board do consider that interview to represent the tipping point of GOProud’s alleged behavioral problems.

“This is not a behavioral issue at all,” Barron insisted to TheDC. “The fact is that from the very moment that GOProud signed up initially for CPAC, there was an effort among folks who didn’t like the fact that there was a gay group involved in CPAC on the ACU board to force GOProud out. It has absolutely nothing to do with behavior.”

“It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I said something that one ACU board member didn’t like, that I then apologized for,” Barron concluded. “If that’s the standard, then there are a lot of people that they’re going to have to remove as sponsors.”

“Why should the organization be banned for the comments of one person?” Barron wondered. “It was all about having a gay organization as a part of CPAC.”

Barron points to conservative organizations that long-opposed GOProud’s inclusion at CPAC as the reason the group is on the outs.

Fellow GOProud co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia echoed his colleague in an interview with TheDC. “Our opponents on the board of ACU and in outside organizations made no secret for two and a half years about why they wanted us out of CPAC, and it’s because we’re gay,” LaSalvia said.

‘Oh, We’re Losing 15 Groups’

More than a dozen conservative organizations joined a boycott of CPAC during one or both of the years GOProud was welcome at the conference, but CPAC’s former executive director, Lisa DePasquale — who was fired immediately after Keene left and is now the chair of GOProud’s board — says most of those boycotting organizations hadn’t actually been sponsors in recent years.

“At peak, there were maybe 15 groups that claimed to boycott. Of those 15, only 2 had ever participated in CPAC [in recent years]: The Heritage Foundation and Concerned Women for America,” DePasquale told TheDC.

But the appearance of such a large boycott had to weigh heavily on some board members, DePasquale explained.

“There were groups that were getting on this list of, ‘Oh, we’re boycotting,’ who we never had any relationship with. So, to someone who wasn’t involved, like a board member that wasn’t involved in the day-to-day stuff, they see, ‘Oh, we’re losing 15 groups,’ when we only lost two,” she said.

The Family Research Center (FRC) was one of those loosely-connected groups, DePasquale said.

“For the last few years, the conference — which used to embody the core of the conservative movement — has pulled up a chair at the family table for people working to advance the policy goals of the radical left,” FRC President Tony Perkins declared in a 2011 email to supporters. “Lobbyists for amnesty, the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], legalized marijuana, same-sex “marriage, and Internet gambling have called CPAC home for the last several years.”

Following GOProud’s expulsion from sponsorship, FRC signed up to be a CPAC co-sponsor in 2012 — and is a co-sponsor again in 2013.

By 2011, The Heritage Foundation made a splash by sitting CPAC out for the first time in a decade, citing both financial reasons and uncertainty over “what direction CPAC is going, what philosophy they’re going to promote.”

In 2012 — and 2013 — Heritage was back on board as a CPAC sponsor.

Concerned Women for America never returned as a CPAC sponsor.

The Board Is Divided Into ‘Three Groups’

In a phone interview with TheDC, Cardenas said banning GOProud from co-sponsorship for behavioral issues was his personal motivation, but that other members of ACU’s board had different reasons — including opposition to homosexuality — when the board voted to expel the group.

“To be candid with you, our board vote is comprised of … basically three groups,” Cardenas said: “strong social conservatives” who are opposed on social issues grounds, libertarians who support GOProud’s inclusion, and traditional marriage advocates who welcome GOProud’s presence.

Those social conservatives who oppose the group think “they should not be invited, period,” Cardenas explained.

That group has been led by board members Cleta Mitchell and Morton Blackwell, according to a GOProud-supportive source with knowledge of the ACU board.

Mitchell declined to comment for this report, but in a 2012 interview with the blog ChicagoNow, she clearly stated her opposition to GOProud.

“Well they aren’t committed to the fundamental principles of the movement,” Mitchell reportedly said. “It would be like ‘Conservatives for Gun Control’ — it’s an oxymoron.”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist ranks among the libertarians, Cardenas told TheDC, pointing out that he’s a board member of both GOProud and the ACU.

“We’ve got a group of libertarians on the board who believe that GOProud definitely should be invited, regardless of the civility issue,” Cardenas offered.

Cardenas said the last group — the traditional marriage advocates that are open to GOProud’s attendance — is currently in opposition “because of the civility issue.”

“So we had people voting for different reasons,” he said.

Inviting GOProud Would Not Imply ‘Endorsement Of Any Particular Policies Regarding Gays’

But CPAC’s GOProud-supportive critics have a difficult time caring about the reason the group is still on the outs.

On Friday, the conservative magazine National Review threw its weight behind inviting GOProud back to the conference, arguing that “[i]ts participation in past CPACs caused only mild disquiet.”

“CPAC’s inviting GOProud to participate again would not now, as it did not at earlier conferences, imply its endorsement of any particular policies regarding gays…” the National Review editors wrote.

Conservative columnist S.E. Cupp, normally a fixture at the conference, announced recently that she won’t attend again until CPAC welcomes GOProud back.

“I’ve been scheduled to speak at CPAC this year, and I don’t think I can until this issue is reconciled and figured out,” Cupp announced on her MSNBC show. “These are conservatives who have had to work doubly hard to advance conservative messages and we should be rewarding them with positions of prominence,” she added.

And on the liberal side of the aisle, MSNBC weekend host Chris Hayes also announced that he would turn down CPAC’s invitation to speak on a panel, unless the conference welcomes back GOProud.

“As far as GOProud knows the policy [barring their attendance] is still in effect,” Hayes wrote. “So I wrote back to Al Cardenas who runs the ACU in a letter yesterday and asked whether the policy is still in effect. If it isn’t, I told him, I’m psyched to go and if it is, well, I’ll wait until it changes, which is, really, just a matter of time.”

Despite the uproar this year, The Daily Caller has learned that after being informed that the policy was still in place, GOProud did not seek to co-sponsor CPAC in 2013.

Follow Vince on Twitter