Citizens for America
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Citizens for America (CFA) was a United States conservative grass-roots organization founded by President Ronald Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet" (principally Jaquelin H. Hume, CEO of Basic American Foods of San Francisco, and including Southern California car dealer Holmes Tuttle and others) to support President Reagan's national defense and economic initiatives. CFA called itself "President Reagan's Lobby" and was led first by drugstore magnate Lewis E. Lehrman and later by Gerald P. Carmen, who had served as administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations mission in Geneva, Switzerland. CFA was organized as an IRS 501 (C) (3) and (4) non-profit. Among the early employees was Jack Abramoff, who was later terminated for cause.
Citizens for America staged an unprecedented meeting of anti-Communist rebel leaders called the "Democratic International", including Nicaraguan, Laotian, Angolan and Afghan (Mujahideen) rebels in June 1985 in Jamba, Angola. The meeting was held in the UNITA headquarters of Angolan rebel Jonas Savimbi. The guerrilla leaders were presented with a copy of the United States Declaration of Independence, and a letter from President Reagan supporting CFA was read, although the Reagan administration refused to officially support all of the guerrilla groups.
Marc Holtzman (who later ran for governor of Colorado) served as CFA's first executive director. Under Holtzman's tenure, CFA focused on promoting the Reagan economic and national security agenda, including the strategic defense initiative. Holtzman resigned in early 1985 and was replaced by Abramoff, who had been director of College Republicans. Lehrman fired Abramoff after only nine months due to his mismanagement of the organization’s $3 million budget and his hiring of friends.
Abramoff was replaced by CFA's legal counsel Frank Trotta, who served as interim Executive Director until Bill Wilson, formerly of Right to Work, came on as executive director. Wilson served for a year, after which attorney and writer Jack R. Stevens became the executive director. Stevens served for two years and was the organization’s executive director in its final days under President Reagan. Trotta, Wilson and Stevens (who had earlier served as CFA’s western regional director) were credited with restoring CFA's finances and reputation after Abramoff’s brief but damaging tenure.
CFA supported its grass-roots lobbying campaigns by hosting two fundraisers annually. The "Founder's Circle" required a contribution of $25,000 per year and included donors like Joseph and Holly Coors, Holmes Tuttle and Jack Hume. President Reagan hosted CFA donors and staff regularly at the White House. At one such session in 1987, he recognized CFA National Director Gerald P. Carmen and Executive Director Jack Stevens for their efforts in orchestrating the organization’s successful campaign to secure $100 million in congressional aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. CFA staff met in the White House with Reagan Administration officials on a weekly basis to coordinate field activities.
Stevens hired Liam Weston, who later became Mayor Pro Tem of El Segundo, California and now a columnist for the Sacramento Union , as CFA’s eastern regional director in 1987. Weston later served as a Republican staff member in the 104th U.S. Congress. He left Congress and moved to Central America to administer the U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan Resistance 1989-1991. In 1991-1993, he was posted to Africa, where he managed an aid program for the Angolan UNITA rebels.
President Reagan mentioned CFA 11 times in "The Reagan Diaries", including an entry in his final days in office that CFA is one of the few groups with which would consider staying involved upon leaving office.
President Reagan credited CFA's extensive field operations, and cited field leaders Weston; Gordon Bloyer;(now an Internet blogger and video commentator); Kelly Cardwell of Alabama; Cecil Martin “Bud” Starr, III (now a Kern County, California prosecutor); Robert Miltenberg (now a Los Angeles advertising executive); former California legislator Doug Carter (now deceased); and San Francisco activist Dorothy Vuksich (now deceased) with having helped secure congressional support for Afghan rebel aid, Contra aid, and tax reduction and simplification, among other issues. CFA organized volunteer committees and chairmen in each congressional district to conduct grass-roots campaigns in support of Reagan's strategic and economic agenda. The organization was able to unite all segments of the conservative movement, though it took no position on social issues.
Stevens and Weston, in coordination with Reagan's OMB Director Jim Miller and former CFA communications director David Carmen (now CEO of the Washington, D.C. public affairs firm, The Carmen Group), created the first annual "Pork Barrel" spending awards, a dubious distinction for member's of Congress CFA considered to be profligate spenders. CFA published “The Pork Book” in 1987.. Taxpayers Against Government Fraud and Waste along with other public policy organizations have continued the annual event by recognizing certain congressmen for supporting excessive "pork barrel" spending.
The organization occupied the 4th Floor of the Heritage Foundation building on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington, D.C. Other employees of CFA included fundraiser Abigail Pearlman (now married to Congressman Roy Blunt); office assistant Marjorie Huge; communications director Andre Bogolubov; controller Mike Russell; research director Peter Conlin (now a Sacramento, California attorney); Texas regional director Gwen Faro (now deceased); eastern regional director Kerry Moody; midwestern regional director Mike Simpfenderfer; project manager Mary Ann Gordon; project manager Ed Priola; project manager Brian Malnak; John Szelest, Eastern Regional Director; Terry Henry, Finance Director; Patricia Patterson, Assistant to the Chairman; Timothy Carey, Northeast Field Director; computer operations director Grayden Frick (now deceased), research director Grover Norquist, field director Mathew Tsien, and western regional director and field operations director Carol Hallett. Hallett was appointed U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas during the Reagan Administration. She later served as director of U.S. Customs under President George H.W. Bush. Subsequently, she headed the Air Transport Association in Washington, D.C. and now is a senior officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Former New Jersey Senate candidate, Jeffrey Bell served as Deputy Chairman of CFA.
- Washington Post, July 27, 1985, "Staff Shakeup at Conservative Group" by Sidney Blumnethal.
- See "The Reagan Diaries" by Ronald Reagan, Harper Perennial, 2009. Pages 203, 254, 294, 357, 383, 438, 441, 450, 526, 601, 636.