David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is trying to reclaim his reputation after being accused in a Politico news story last week of engaging in a “pay-to-play” scandal.
The story, written by Mike Allen, Politico’s chief political correspondent, said Mr. Keene endorsed a pro-union position favored by the United Parcel Service in a dispute with largely nonunionized FedEx after FedEx refused to pay Mr. Keene millions to mobilize his activists.
In the story, Mr. Allen included a June 30 letter from ACU Executive Vice President Dennis Whitfield to FedEx explaining the terms of their proposal in detail, promising flattering Op-Eds and repeated solicitations to their e-mail lists to contact their elected representatives. Mr. Allen also included a July 15 letter signed by Mr. Keene and leaders of other conservative groups demanding that FedEx quit calling the action UPS sought “a bailout” and saying that UPS only wanted a fair playing field. The takeaway was that Mr. Keene turned on FedEx and signed the supportive letter for UPS because FedEx didn’t pay out.
Mr. Keene said in a conference call Tuesday that Politico “got it wrong” and that the two actions were taken “simultaneously but completely separately.”
Mr. Keene said FedEx asked ACU to create a “kitchen sink” proposal outlining how they could help oppose the National Labor Relations Board standards that UPS wanted. The second letter, according to Mr. Keene, was merely asking FedEx to stop calling the legislative change “forced unionization a bailout” and was not an endorsement for UPS’ side.
“I just thought it was a dumb way for them to characterize the issue,” Mr. Keene said.
The Politico article alarmed many conservatives when it came out, prompting discussions about ACU’s future. After talking to Mr. Keene personally, Redstate.com Founder Erick Erickson said he took Mr. Keene “at his word” but said, “I think ACU needs some serious restructuring.”
John Hawkins of Rightwingnews.com was sympathetic but doubtful, as well. “I am still willing to be convinced, but I haven’t heard an explanation for why the ACU wanted to charge FedEx $2 million to publicly back a position they supported, and yet David Keene signed on to a letter that seems to take the opposite position for free,” Mr. Hawkins said after the conference call.
When asked for comment about Mr. Keene’s pushback on his story, Politico’s Mike Allen said he made multiple attempts to contact ACU and Mr. Keene and held the story for a day waiting for response. “When they still hadn’t responded, we went ahead and posted our article,” Mr. Allen said in an email. “When they finally called later that morning, we updated right away with their comments.”
“The story is completely accurate,” Mr. Allen said.