John E. Carbaugh Jr., a lawyer and conservative activist who played an influential role behind the scenes in Washington politics for three decades, has died. He was 60.
Mr. Carbaugh, a former aide to retired Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, died Sunday at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, according to relatives. The cause of death was not immediately available, but Mr. Carbaugh had suffered from liver disease.
An international businessman and adviser to Fortune 500 companies in the United States, Japan and Europe, Mr. Carbaugh was considered a master at conservative political warfare. His activism spanned three decades.
Associates said he likely will be remembered most for his impact on Capitol Hill, where he worked first as a foreign-policy and national-security aide to the now-deceased Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, in 1972, and then for Mr. Helms from 1974 to 1982.
Through Mr. Helms, Mr. Carbaugh pioneered new techniques in using Senate influence to advance conservative policies.
“John Carbaugh was a model for a whole generation of congressional staff on how to use the constitutional role of the Senate in foreign policy,” said Michael Pillsbury, a colleague.
Mr. Pillsbury said Mr. Carbaugh’s genius was adapting liberal political tactics and applying them to advance conservative policies and people.
Working with Mr. Helms, along with other senators and staff, Mr. Carbaugh used hardball political tactics: using Congress’ budget power to force policy changes, placing conservatives in key positions, and blocking appointments of liberals through the Senate confirmation process or through press disclosures of past policies and activities of opponents.
Another tactic was to have a senator or group of senators send letters to the president or key aides and then release the letters to the press, as a way to apply pressure on administrations for various national-security issues.
Mr. Carbaugh was on the front lines of the major political battles of his time, including the fight over ending U.S. ownership of the Panama Canal and winning political support for Nicaragua’s anti-communist Contra rebels.
In 1979, he was the founder and chairman of the unofficial Madison Group, a band of conservatives who met at the Madison Hotel. The group led a behind-the-scenes effort to prevent the re-election of President Carter in 1980.
Members of the Madison group then won key posts in the Reagan administration transition teams for the State Department, Pentagon, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the CIA. They helped place conservatives in several key posts in the administration.
Mr. Carbaugh’s motto for conservative activism was that “people are policy,” according to associates. “He believed that if the right people were chosen, good policies would follow,” said one friend.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. March 29 at Bethesda’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, 5500 River Road.