CPAC: Skip It (FRC) or Sponsor It (CitizenLink)?
Thousands of conservatives are meeting in Washington, D.C. at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), representing the diversity of conservatism, from socially conservative activists to national defense hawks to Rep. Rand Paul libertarians. Many social conservative groups are split over whether to boycott CPAC or buy a seat at the table.
At issue is GOProud, a group representing gay conservatives and their allies. GOProud is cosponsoring the conference, which gives it a say in the conference agenda. Missing from the CPAC program are representatives from Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, among others. Mike Huckabee, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), House Republican Study Committee chairman Jim Jordon (R-OH) are also skipping CPAC this year.
Not all social conservatives have decided to miss the largest conservative gathering this year. They believe that being a part of CPAC is a better strategy than boycotting it.
Sarah Palin, who has never attended CPAC, told CBN's David Brody that she thought it was better to participate even if you disagree with other participants.
"Should the GOP, should conservatives not reach out to others, not participate in events or forums that perhaps arising within those forums are issues that maybe we don't personally agree with? And I say 'no'." said Palin. "I look at participation in an event like CPAC or any other event along kind of in that same vein as the more information that people have the better." Palin did not attend CPAC due to other plans.
CitizenLink is one group that opted for this strategy of engagement. Rather than boycott the conference, CitizenLink is cosponsoring it. The payoff is a seat on the steering committee that helps form the conference agenda on social and domestic policy. CitizenLink's Tim Goeglein and Tom Minnery are also featured on the CPAC program.
"Our team will be engaging with those attendees who may not have previously given pro-life and pro-marriage perspectives much consideration — in order to ensure family issues are not lost amid the other important issues that will also be discussed," CitizenLink's Sonja Swiatkiewicz said.
Leaders from the American Principles Project, American Values, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage wrote a letter to CPAC chairman David Keene announcing that they would be boycotting CPAC because of GOProud's role.
"An organization committed to the ultimate abandonment of the legal and social meaning of marriage by definition disqualifies itself from recognition as a partner in the conservative cause," said the letter.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that the issue was not who attended or spoke at CPAC. It was about GOProud's leadership role on the CPAC steering committee.
"As a cosponsor, they're a part of setting the agenda. And it's hard to really grasp the idea that those who are working to redefine marriage can sit at the same table and discuss strategy with those who are to trying to promote and protect traditional values," said Perkins.
GOProud founder Christopher Barron responded by saying that Perkins was lying. Barron said that GOProud has the same position on marriage as Dick Cheney and John Bolton. They believe that it is an issue that should be left to the states and that should be decided by voters, not the courts.
"[Perkins] can dress this up all he wants and talk about family and redefining marriage, but that doesn't have anything to do with it," said Barron. "The bottom line has nothing to do with policy at all. It's because we happen to be gay."
On the other hand, other conservative leaders opted to join CPAC. Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN) is opening the conference, and Rep. Allen West (R-FL) is closing it. Also in attendance are Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Haley Barbour.