Conservative Group Working To Stop Spending Cuts
One of the most pre-eminent conservative organizations in the country is quietly working behind the scenes to stop spending cuts:
As one of the country’s largest and oldest conservative advocacy groups, the American Conservative Union has long fought to rein in federal spending and limit the size of government.
But behind the scenes, the group has formed a partnership with business lobbyists to tame the activists who have pushed Republican leaders in Congress to adopt some of the most austere spending limits in decades.
In a draft proposal circulated to defense and transportation industry executives in recent weeks, the union is offering to use its grass-roots organization, annual conference and movement clout to lobby against cuts to federal military and infrastructure spending.
The group is also proposing to incorporate favorable votes on military and infrastructure spending into its widely cited Congressional voting scorecard, “the ‘gold standard’ for elected officials,” according to the proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. The documents shed light on a rarely public corner of Washington lobbying, where industry lobbyists join with grass-roots groups that offer ideological credibility and deep mailing lists of sympathetic activists — sometimes for a price.
“Constitutional conservatives recognize that not all government expenditures are equal,” the proposal says. “These investments are core, constitutional federal responsibilities and should be so treated in the allocation of federal resources.”
The proposed new effort, called the American Strength Program, would be financed by contributions from the defense and transportation businesses, which have struggled to defend the federal appropriations that benefit them as Congressional Republicans seek further spending cuts.
In recent weeks, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association has urged transportation lobbyists and business executives to make contributions to the American Strength Program. The association, which often joins with Democratic-leaning labor unions to advance federal road and bridge projects, suggested it was critical to persuade conservative lawmakers to bend on some areas of spending.
“As you know, in recent times, we have often had trouble convincing our conservative friends that transportation infrastructure is a valuable investment and should not be subject to the spending cuts being discussed,” wrote Richard Juliano, the association’s vice president for strategic initiatives, in an e-mail to colleagues this month. “We would appreciate your considering a major contribution to this program in support of the A.C.U. effort and encouraging others to do so.”
Officials at the union, who declined to say how much they were seeking to raise for the new program, described the proposal as a draft. The group’s tax returns indicate it raised about $3.8 million in 2010, but as a tax-exempt “social welfare” organization, the union is not required to disclose its donors.
In an interview, Alberto R. Cardenas, the chairman of the conservative union, said all money raised from the program’s partners would go into a Beltway-focused media campaign.
“My thought was that we were taking an uneven amount of resources from the two elements that are the most basic responsibilities of the federal government, which are national defense and the development of a national transportation infrastructure,” Mr. Cardenas said.
The American Strength Program also hints at some fundamental tensions within conservatism. The movement’s establishment, including the conservative union, took root in Washington in an when era military spending was sacrosanct and transportation bills regularly marched through Congress with bipartisan support.
On some level, of course, this isn’t all that surprising. Even since the sequestration cuts were announced, there were loud voices on the right denouncing the defense cuts by claiming, largely falsely, that the cuts would “devastate” the military and harm national security. Of course, this goes beyond defense spending to include infrastructure spending, largely at the behest of Republican business interests. This from an organization that was banning people from CPAC for alleged ideological impurities.