American Conservative Union
- Location: Washington, D.C.
- Tax-Exempt Status: 501(c)(4)
- EIN: 52-0810813
- Website: http://www.conservative.org/
The American Conservative Union is “the nation’s original conservative organization.” Since its founding in 1964, the ACU has “served as an umbrella organization harnessing the collective strength of conservative organizations fighting for Americans who are concerned with liberty, personal responsibility, traditional values, and strong national defense.” They are based in Washington, DC. Since June 2014, the chairman of the ACU is Matt Schlapp. From 2001-2005, Schlapp served as President George W. Bush’s political director. He then worked as the executive director of federal affairs for Koch Industries until 2009, when he left to found Cove Strategies with his wife. The executive director of the ACU is Dan Schneider, a former staffer for President George W. Bush and advisor to Senator Mitch McConnell.
The ACU was founded after the election of President Lyndon Johnson. The founders of the organization included Frank S. Meyer, William F. Buckley Jr., L. Brent Bozell, and Robert E. Bauman; Congressman Doug Bruce was the first chairman. The group was founded as a “counterweight” to the “liberal Americans for Democratic Action” following the election of President Lyndon Johnson. Their mission was to “consolidate the overall strength of the American conservative movement through unified leadership and action, mold public opinion, and stimulate and direct responsible political action.” Among the early projects of the ACU were the Conservative Victory Fund, a campaign war chest, created in 1970, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), established in 1975. Their first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held in 1974. Today, according to the ACU’s website, “members and supporters are at the one million mark and climbing.”
The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is still one of the ACU’s most prominent projects. CPAC bills itself as “the nation’s largest gathering of conservatives.” It is a four-day conference that begins with an Activism Boot Camp, followed by three days of speakers and discussions to “unite the political leaders of the conservative movement with the people who make up the movement.” CPAC speakers include conservative presidential candidates, elected officials, and media personalities. The conference includes a straw poll, a “gauge of the Republican base’s mood,” at the end of the event. In 2011, the ACU hosted the first regional CPAC event in Orlando, Florida. In 2015, the ACU announced an initiative called CPAC 365 to expand CPAC “from a three-day annual conference to a year-round effort.”
CPAC – as well as the ACU – has received a significant amount of support from the Koch network. In 2013, Koch Industries sponsored the “VIP Ronald Reagan Dinner Reception” at CPAC in 2013. According to the CPAC website, Koch-affiliated organizations Concerned Veterans for America and the 60 Plus Association were sponsors of the event in 2015. The brothers’ companies also “contributed a total of $50,000 to the ACU and the ACU Foundation” in 2010.
In addition, the ACU rates all members of Congress “by scoring some of the most important issues facing our nation.” Members of Congress are rated annually on a number of issues important to the ACU, including “taxes, wasteful government spending, cultural issues, defense and foreign policy.” The ACU “typically does not announce which pieces of legislation will be considered in their scoring,” but bases lawmakers’ ratings on “how their votes align with conservative values.” They consider their ratings to be a “gold standard” in “holding every member of Congress accountable for their voting record” on the ACU’s chosen issues. The ACU has been rating members of Congress since 1971; in 2011, they began rating state legislators as well, and plans to score “every legislature in every state, every session.”
In 1973, the ACU Foundation was created to “educate, influence and convert those who may not know they are conservatives as well as informing, inspiring and motivating those who know they are conservatives.” The ACUF has five Policy Centers – Arts & Culture, Criminal Justice Reform, Human Dignity, Statesmanship & Diplomacy, and 21st Century Property Rights. The most recent past chairman of the ACUF is Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and 2016 Republican presidential candidate. She was appointed in September 2013 and resigned in 2015.
The ACU Political Action Committee is the ACU’s “political arm.” In the 2014 election cycle, the ACU PAC spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars on independent expenditures,” as part of its goal to “increase the number of quality candidates who share our commitment to conservative principles” and advance the “fiscal, social, and security priorities of the Reagan era.” The ACU provides funding and independent expenditures “in conjunction with endorsements and public announcements to communicate our support for chosen candidates.” The ACU PAC spent nearly $120,000 supporting Republican candidates for U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and President during the 2012 election cycle.