The Republican Party is going through a transition that doesn’t bode well for an organization that has dubbed itself the party of responsible government. Now one of the nation’s largest and oldest conservative advocacy groups, the American Conservative Union (ACU,) that has long fought to rein in federal spending and limit the size of government, seems to be jumping the shark.

Fresh out of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the ACT issued a draft proposal and sent it to executives in the defense and transportation industries, promising to lobby against cuts to federal military and infrastructure spending.

The ACU also proposed incorporating favorable votes on military and infrastructure spending into its widely cited Congressional voting scorecard. The ACU’s influence upon GOP legislators portends a move away from austerity towards, of all things, more government spending.

“Constitutional conservatives recognize that not all government expenditures are equal,” the proposal says. “These investments are core, constitutional federal responsibilities and should be so treated in the allocation of federal resources.”

ACU named their new effort the “American Strength Program,” and assumes that defense and transportation industries will finance their lobbying efforts.

Recently the American Road and Transportation Builders Association has urged transportation lobbyists and business executives to make contributions to the American Strength Program in order to secure government spending on infrastructure. The association, which has a history of working with Democratic-leaning labor unions to advance federal road and bridge projects, suggested it was critical to persuade conservative lawmakers to bend on some areas of spending.

“As you know, in recent times, we have often had trouble convincing our conservative friends that transportation infrastructure is a valuable investment and should not be subject to the spending cuts being discussed,” wrote Richard Juliano, the association’s senior vice president for strategic initiatives, in an e-mail to colleagues this month. “We would appreciate your considering a major contribution to this program in support of the ACU. effort and encouraging others to do so.”

ACU Chairman Alberto R. Cardenas

In an interview, Alberto R. Cardenas, the chairman of the ACU, said all money raised from the program’s partners would go into a Beltway-focused, i.e. legislative lobbying, media campaigns.

“My thought was that we were taking an uneven amount of resources from the two elements that are the most basic responsibilities of the federal government, which are national defense and the development of a national transportation infrastructure,” Mr. Cardenas said.

However the ACU American Strength Program is likely to widen the divide between the Tea Party and GOP groups. The movement’s establishment, including the conservative union, took root in Washington in an era where military spending was sacrosanct and transportation bills regularly marched through Congress with bipartisan support.

John F. Tate, president of Campaign for Liberty, a grass-roots organization that grew out of the 2008 presidential campaign of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, said the ACU American Strength Program “smacks to a lot of people as taking big money to do the bidding of big business.”

“We’re of the opinion that at this time, with the nation going bankrupt, everything has to be looked at for cuts,” Mr. Tate added.

While the ACU American Strength proposal portrays military and transportation spending as consistent with principled conservatism, some conservative leaders disagree, saying it would put the interests of particular businesses ahead of the interest of the taxpayers.

“From a policy point of view, we would challenge that argument,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a conservative organization that has aligned itself with the Tea Party movement. “We would argue that from a balanced-budget point of view, you need to put everything on the table, including military spending. And certainly the transportation bill is full of earmarks and wasteful spending.”

If the ACU considers its job is to raise funds for its operations regardless of whether it is representing conservative views then no true Conservative would send one dime to the organization. Sadly the ACU seems to have decided that the need to address the national debt takes second place to their own.


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