I think that the conservatives pulling out of CPAC because of the inclusion of the gay rights group, GOProud, are wrong. FOX has a long piece on the whole ugly business, but I stand by my position on the infiltration of ACU and CPAC by Islamic supremacists and its resulting damage.
I don't care what people do behind closed doors. I care about freedom and individual rights.
According to sources close to CPAC, the firestorm began in 2009 when GOProud became a CPAC co-sponsor -- a level that typically requires a significant financial investment by the participating organization, though it grants such groups higher status and profile among the hundreds gathering each year at the event.
This year, GOProud is participating at the same level as last year, according to Jimmy LaSalvia, the group's executive director. A vote by the ACU board to bring GOProud on board this year was initially split but in the end the group won out.
LaSalvia and others point out that several boycotters -- like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association -- didn't participate themselves last year, suggesting more may be behind the objections than meets the eye.
Some say boycotting groups might be masking their own fiscal restraints. Others say personal conflicts with organizers that have been long simmering are playing out in the dispute.
"I think there is a broader issue here, to be quite honest. There's been grumbling over the last several years. They say the ACU board, some call it ‘the politburo,' … are old, entrenched conservatives and it's their way or the highway and people are getting a little frustrated," said one conservative strategist who has been close to CPAC for years.
"I think (the social conservatives) have felt alienated for a while, they haven't gotten speaking slots -- that's always a tussle," the strategist said, adding, "David (Keene) has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years."
It doesn't help that in December, World Net Daily, a conservative online news magazine that has emerged as CPAC's fiercest critic, reported that the ACU informed the Internal Revenue Service in November that someone on staff had embezzled organization funds to the tune of $400,000. The ACU has an annual budget of approximately $1.4 million, according to WND. No charges or indictments have been announced so far.
Responding to a question regarding the scandal, Keene told FOXNews.com that "ACU serves as the organizer or facilitator of (CPAC) and while the stories about an employee who stole money from the organization are titillating, they have nothing to do either with the viability of CPAC or the financial health of ACU."
If the controversy over GOProud weren't enough, another complaint gaining traction among right wing blogs is the charge that ACU board member and CPAC organizer Suhail Khan is connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S government, and is trying to inject some sort of "Islamic supremacy" into the event.
Critics like Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, Pamela Geller from the website Atlas Shrugs and Robert Spencer from Jihad Watch are among critics who accuse Americans for Tax Reform chief Grover Norquist, who is also on the CPAC board and an ally of Khan, of being too biased in favor of radical Muslim activists.
They say Norquist and Khan are unduly influencing the CPAC agenda, proving the organization is not serious about the threat of Muslim extremism.
"I have long been aware of the stealth Islamization of CPAC leadership, but held my events there in the hopes that we might snatch back leadership," Geller recently wrote on her website. "David Keene has stacked the board with Islamic supremacists, and their chief diabolical Islamic apologist is none other than the infamous Grover Norquist."
Norquist did not return calls or e-mails for comment, but Khan, a former White House staffer and Republican congressional aide, told FOXNews.com that he is used to the attacks. He said the unsubstantiated accusations against him first emerged after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when he was working in the Bush White House.
Khan is now a fellow at the Center for Global Engagement working on religious outreach. He said he is the only board member that was elected by the wider ACU membership and enjoys strong support from fellow conservatives.
"The (accusations) are completely false, there is no merit to them," Khan said. "I'm just grateful that the vast majority of conservatives at-large know me as a life-long Reagan conservative who has dedicated his life to individual liberty, limited government and a strong defense. This has not been a controversy internally."
CPAC's Suhail Khan addressing Muslim Brotherhood front the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), co-conspirator in the largest Hamas funding terror trial:“The early Muslims loved death, dying for the sake of almighty Allah, more than the oppressors loved life,” said an impassioned Khan, who wiped away tears throughout his speech. “This must be the case when we are fighting.”
He added: “What are our oppressors going to do with a people like us? We are prepared to give our lives for the cause of Islam.”
According to CPAC organizers, at least one panel is scheduled on Islamic Sharia law and the debate over its creeping influence in Western societies, including the United States.
Jordan Marks, executive director of the Young America Foundation (YAF), which co-founded CPAC nearly 40 years ago, said when it comes down to it, most young people coming to the three-day event won't be aware -- or care -- about of the infighting and the controversies.
"These are internal issues and a lot of people working in the Beltway tend to get sucked into the Beltway mentality," he said. CPAC will continue "to offer a venue for people to come together and learn, to find the issues that are important to the movement and ... the leaders of the movement are looking to make that personal connection with the activists and foot soldiers. That's what makes CPAC so great."
Meanwhile, Weidman said the Heritage Foundation wants to reach out to fresh voters and the new Tea Party set rather than scuttle around with the "graybeards" and the Washington conservative establishment at CPAC. He acknowledged that the majority of attendees are college students and recent grads, but "they come in through established groups."
"We need to reach the 'regular guys,'" he said. "In other words we're focusing on outreach. In a sense of missionary work, this is where we feel the field being much more fertile, rather than preaching to the choir each year. We've done this one to death."
Craig Shirley, a longtime conservative media strategist with long ties to CPAC, disputed that notion.
"CPAC and the Tea Party were always simpatico. Most of the people who come to CPAC -- if you look at the polling data each year -- the vast majority are from outside Washington. It's the largest gathering of grassroots in the country."
Others say the divide between libertarian and social conservatives has been growing and is quite pronounced at CPAC, which can account for a lot of the rifts today. But this isn't new, either, Shirley said.
"It wouldn't be CPAC if there weren't a fight," said Shirley, who noted similar debates between libertarians and social conservatives in the 1970s.
CPAC "was more fragile 20 years ago than it is now," he said.
And any Republican presidential candidate hoping to get support from the conservative base knows CPAC is a must-do one year before the primaries. According to CPAC, prospective candidates confirmed to speak this year include Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, John Thune and Tim Pawlenty.
Listed but not confirmed to attend is former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Palin entertained invitations in 2009 and 2010 but declined both years.
Other high-profile conservatives and Tea Party favorites confirmed to speak at CPAC this year include Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Mike Pence of Indiana, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Guest staples Ann Coulter and Liz Cheney are also on board.