ACU's chairman has conflicted past

New pay-for-play revelations aren't the first time David Keene has been accused of a conflict of interest

By Vincent Rossmeier
Published July 18, 2009 12:01AM (UTC)
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The American Conservative Union has been fighting back against a Politico story that reported the group sought $2 to $3 million from FedEx in exchange for supporting the company's position in a legislative battle, then switched sides when the company didn't pay. In a statement, ACU executive vice president Dennis Whitfield sought to distance the organization from the letter containing the offer, saying Chairman David Keene was acting on his own. "Mr. David Keene’s name was on a letter prepared by another organization. This was a personal decision on his part and he was not representing ACU at the time," Whitfield said.

There is a question, raised by conservative blogger Erick Erickson, as to whether the ACU and Keene can really be considered independent of one another. Beyond that, though, if this really was a case of Keene just acting on his own and not on behalf of the group he leads, it wouldn't be the first time his extensive lobbying and political ties have led him into a scandal over an apparent conflict of interest.

In 2006, Salon reported on Keene's rather peculiar way of showing his allegiance to his conservative principles: While the ACU advocates for smaller government, Keene works at the Carmen Group, a DC advocacy law firm, where he consistently pushes Congress for pork barrel spending on behalf of his corporate clients. 

Keene also angered Republicans in the late 90s with his work on behalf of Citizens for State Power (CSP), a group devoted to opposing federal energy deregulation. And he took some heat in 2003, when he supported Sen. Arlen Specter's reelection bid in Pennsylvania during the Republican primary, despite the fact that Specter was running against the far more conservative Pat Toomey. The National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru wrote at the time, "Some conservative activists are also raising the question of whether Keene has a conflict of interest," because the concerns of many of the clients he represented at the Carmen Group required him to lobby the Senate subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, which Specter chaired.

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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