American Conservative Union

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American Conservative Union
American Conservative Union (logo).gif
Formation 1964; 53 years ago (1964)
Coordinates 38°54′02″N 77°01′50″W / 38.9005°N 77.0306°W / 38.9005; -77.0306Coordinates: 38°54′02″N 77°01′50″W / 38.9005°N 77.0306°W / 38.9005; -77.0306
Website American Conservative Union

The American Conservative Union (ACU) is an American political organization and labor union which advocates for conservative policies, ranks politicians based on their level of conservatism, and organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference. Founded in 1964, it is the oldest such conservative lobbying organization in the country.[1] The ACU is concerned with what they define as foundations of conservatism, issues such as personal liberty or freedom, foreign policy, and traditional values.[2]



The ACU publishes Battleline, an online e-magazine every few weeks on issues that are important to the conservative movement.

Congressional ratings[edit]

In order to hold politicians accountable, the ACU utilized a rating system which annually rated politicians on their conservatism just as the Americans for Democratic Action did for liberalism.[3][4] They began doing so in 1964, in order to influence state government ideology, as well as state citizen ideology.[5]

Other officials' reputations often serve as the standard by which politicians are rated. Names and scores are often tied and serve as a "litmus test" of how one should vote on a certain bill. As one spokesperson for the ACU once noted, "clear-cut distinctions between liberals and conservatives [occur] if you have Crane, Ashbrook, and Kemp go a certain way and Burton goes the other".[6]

The ACU annually rates politicians according to how they vote on key issues, providing a numerical indicator of how much the lawmakers agreed with conservative ideals. They use this rating system as a point of accountability for politicians, comparing their political rhetoric to their voting records to assess their conservativeness.[7] Politicians are given a percentile rating, anyone with a rating of over 80% is considered to be an "ACU Conservative".[8] These scores are often used in political science research, in news stories and in election campaigns.

Conservative Political Action Conference[edit]

ACU's most well-known event is the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual event organized by the ACU foundation.[4] CPAC has an annual attendance of thousands. Speakers regularly include sitting and former presidents and other famous conservatives. In 2009 the most viewed speaker was Rush Limbaugh, who spoke last, and whose speech was covered live on multiple cable news networks and C-SPAN.

American Conservative Union Foundation[edit]

The ACU Foundation's purpose is to educate the public on conservative principles, and currently has five "policy centers" which focus on different political areas. There is the Center for Arts & Culture, the Center for Human Dignity, the Center for Statesmanship & Diplomacy, the Center for 21st Century Property Rights, and the Center for Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR). These policy centers are mainly blogs which post articles regarding their topic area.[9] The most extensive of these is the CCJR, who advocate for conservative criminal justice reform through advising governmental officials, media advocacy, and testifying as expert witnesses at governmental hearings. The CCJR focuses on two main policy areas: preventing civil asset forfeiture and increasing mental health facilities within the criminal justice system. The CCJR works with the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Prison Fellow Ministries in the Right on Crime campaign, and offers a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference each year.[10]



The American Conservative Union was one of many conservative organizations formed in the 1960s as part of the rising of the New Right.[11] As conservative activist M. Stanton Evans predicted, "Historians may well record the decade of the 1960s as the era in which conservatism, as a viable political force, finally came into its own."[12] During a time of increasing polarization between liberals and conservatives, activists began to build a well organized conservative movement, forming organizations such as the John Birch Society and Young Americans for Freedom as well as the ACU.[13] During this era, conservative groups focused less on direct action and more on long term planning and sought to gain positions in public office.[13]

The ACU was founded in December 1964 as a reaction to conservatives' loss of political power following the defeat of Barry Goldwater.[14] Founders included Frank S. Meyer, William F Buckley Jr, and Robert E. Bauman, who organized the first meeting.[14] In the initial meetings, a 50-member board of directors was appointed, whose members included Lammot Copeland, Peter O'Donnell, John A. Howard, Donald C. Bruce, and John Dos Passos.[14] Membership grew to 7,000 within 9 months, and 45,000 by the end of 1972.[14]

The ACU distanced itself from groups such as the John Birch Society, in an effort to appeal to the more moderate conservative majority.[14]

Foreign policy influence[edit]

The ACU spent roughly $1.4 million opposing the ratification of the Panama Canal treaties in 1977.[15] They used a mass mailing campaign, sending out around 2.4 million letters.[16] This brought in roughly $15,000 a day in support of conservative candidates who opposed the treaties.[17] They also produced a thirty-minute-long television ad which aired on 150 television station in eighteen states, and took out newspaper adds in thirty states, encouraging citizens to write to their senators to oppose the treaties.[18] The ACU also helped to fund a "truth squad," formed by Senator Paul Laxalt, whose purpose was to "focus renewed public interest in the treaties" and pressure senators to vote against the treaties.[18] Gary Jarmin, who was at the time Legislator of the ACU, stated that the Panama Canal Treaties were "a good issue for the conservative movement. It's not just the issue itself we're fighting for. This is an excellent opportunity to seize control of the Republican Party."[18]

In 1980, the ACU estimated that it would cost roughly $1.8 million to defeat SALT II; together with other conservative groups, SALT opponents outspent supporters 15:1.[19] Having found the technique of mass mailing to be successful during other campaigns, the ACU used this same technique to oppose SALT II, reaching roughly 500,000 people with this strategy.[19] Additionally, they produced a half-hour-long anti-SALT television program called Soviet Might/American Myth: The United States in Retreat, which was aired on 200 television stations around the country.[20][3]

In 1985, the ACU sent out roughly 100,000 pieces of mail in support of Nicaraguan contra aid in 1985.[21] They also escorted Nicaraguan refugees around Capital Hill in order to persuade undecided politicians to support Reagan's contra aid request.[21]


David A. Keene was chairman from 1984 until 2011, succeeded by Al Cardenas, who served until 2014. He was succeeded by the ninth and current chairman, Matt Schlapp, who has previously served as George Bush's political director.[22]

Lobbying in the 21st century[edit]

The Conservative Victory Fund is used to contribute to the campaigns of conservative political candidates.[23] In 2016, the Fund gave a total of $31,352 in contributions to conservative candidates. Top recipients included Mike Lee, Alex Mooney, Scott Garrett, Jim Jordan, and Marco Rubio.[24]

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the American Conservative Union spent roughly $20,000 on lobbying in 2001 , $400,000 in 2003, and $1,092,837 in 2005.[25] They did not spend any money on lobbying in 2004. From 2006 until 2015, the ACU spent an average of $53,000 per year, for a total of $535,350.[25] In 2016, the ACU has currently spent roughly $30,000.[25]

Recurring lobbyists are Michael Hardiman, David Keene, Staci Rumenap, Larry Hart and Lorenz Hart, and Amanda Bunning.[25]

The ACU has hired Hardiman Consulting, and the Lorenz Hart lobbying firm to lobby for the ACU, as well as using themselves as a lobbying firm.[25]

Each year, the ACU donates to the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2005, they also donated to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.[25]



In 2009, ACU offered FedEx the option of paying as much as $3.4 million for e-mail and other services for "an aggressive grass-roots campaign" to stop a legislative provision being considered by the U.S. Senate.[26] The letter said the ACU's campaign could include "Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU’s Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU’s Board of Directors."[26]

Two weeks later, Keene and leaders of five other conservative organizations issued a letter saying that FedEx was mischaracterizing the legislative situation and was unfairly trying to tap into public resentment against federal bailouts to attack its competition.[27] The letter included, at its top, logos from ACU and the other organizations.[28] Whitfield said that Keene had endorsed the second letter as an individual, even though the letter bore the logo of ACU.[29] The ACU then issued a press release saying that permission to use the logo had not been given by ACU, and that the ACU continued to stand with the policy supported by FedEx.[30]


Diana Hubbard Carr, ACU's former administrative director and ex-wife of David Keene, pleaded guilty in June 2011 to embezzling between $120,000 and $400,000 from 2006 to 2009, during her time as bookkeeper for the group.[31][32]


  1. ^ "American Conservative Union | Who We Are". Retrieved 2016-10-12. 
  2. ^ "American Conservative Union | Foundations of Conservatism". Retrieved 2016-10-12. 
  3. ^ a b Kalman, Laura (2010-06-28). Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393080889. 
  4. ^ a b Micklethwait, John; Wooldridge, Adrian (2004-01-01). The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. Penguin. ISBN 9781594200205. 
  5. ^ Berry, William D.; Ringquist, Evan J.; Fording, Richard C.; Hanson, Russell L. (1998-01-01). "Measuring Citizen and Government Ideology in the American States, 1960-93". American Journal of Political Science. 42 (1): 327–348. doi:10.2307/2991759. 
  6. ^ Fowler, Linda L. (1982-01-01). "How Interest Groups Select Issues for Rating Voting Records of Members of the U. S. Congress". Legislative Studies Quarterly. 7 (3): 401–413. doi:10.2307/439365. 
  7. ^ "American Conservative Union | What We Do". Retrieved 2016-10-12. 
  8. ^ "Stewart Named Top Conservative By American Conservative Union" (Press release). Congressman Chris Stewart. April 3, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2016. 
  9. ^ "Home". The American Conservative Union. Retrieved 2016-12-11. 
  10. ^ "Center for Criminal Justice Reform". The American Conservative Union. Retrieved 2016-12-11. 
  11. ^ Durham, Martin (1985-03-20). "Family, Morality and the New Right". Parliamentary Affairs. 38 (2): 180–191. ISSN 0031-2290. 
  12. ^ Evans, M. Stanton (1961-01-01). Revolt on the campus. Chicago. ISBN 0-313-21160-4. 
  13. ^ a b Hijiya, James A. (2003-01-01). "The Conservative 1960s". Journal of American Studies. 37 (2): 201–227. 
  14. ^ a b c d e Carlisle, Rodney P. (2005-03-17). Encyclopedia of Politics: The Left and the Right. SAGE Publications. ISBN 978-1-4522-6531-5. 
  15. ^ Krepon, M.; Caldwell, D. (2016-04-30). The Politics of Arms Control Treaty Ratification. Springer. ISBN 9781137045348. 
  16. ^ "Leadership, Orientation, and Rhetorical Vision: Jimmy Carter, The 'New Right,' and the Panama Canal on JSTOR" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-12-15. 
  17. ^ Critchlow, Donald T. (2005-01-01). Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman's Crusade. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691070024. 
  18. ^ a b c Skidmore, David (1993-01-01). "Foreign Policy Interest Groups and Presidential Power: Jimmy Carter and the Battle over Ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 23 (3): 477–497. 
  19. ^ a b Sanders, Jerry Wayne (1983-01-01). Peddlers of Crisis: The Committee on the Present Danger and the Politics of Containment. South End Press. ISBN 9780896081819. 
  20. ^ Diamond, Sara (1995-01-01). Roads to Dominion: Right-wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. Guilford Press. ISBN 9780898628647. 
  21. ^ a b Newsom, David D. (1996-01-01). The Public Dimension of Foreign Policy. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253329604. 
  22. ^ "The Hon. Matt Schlapp". American Conservative Union. Retrieved 2016-12-12. 
  23. ^ Carlisle, Rodney P. (2005). Encyclopedia of Politics: The Left and the Right: Volume 1: The Left and Volume 2: The Right. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc. – via SAGE Knowledge. 
  24. ^ "Conservative Victory Fund: Total Contributions | OpenSecrets". Retrieved 2016-12-21. 
  25. ^ a b c d e f "Lobbying Spending Database - American Conservative Union, 2004 | OpenSecrets". Retrieved 2016-12-21. 
  26. ^ a b "Letter, June 30, 2009, from ACU Executive Vice President Dennis Whitfield to Rick Rogers, FedEx". Politico. Retrieved July 17, 2009. 
  27. ^ Andy Barr (July 16, 2009). "Conservatives deliver FedEx smackdown". Politico. 
  28. ^ "Letter to Frederick W. Smith, President, Chairman & CEO, FedEx Corp.". Politico. July 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  29. ^ Mike Allen (July 17, 2009). "Exclusive: Conservative group offers to sell endorsement for $2M". Politico. 
  30. ^ "Press release: Statement from ACU regarding false headline by Washington publication POLITICO". American Conservative Union. July 17, 2009. Archived from the original on July 22, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  31. ^, ABC 7 News, June 6, 2011
  32. ^ Former Manager At The American Conservative Union Pleads Guilty To Embezzlement, June 7, 2011

External links[edit]