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ACU chairman David Keene to quit in February

ACU chairman David Keene

WASHINGTON – Is ACU jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire?

Several American Conservative Union board members have confirmed that David Keene, the chairman of the board of the ACU, is planning to resign at the group’s next meeting. The meeting has not been scheduled yet, but the board will be convened about the time of the next Conservative Political Action Conference, which is being held in Washington D.C. on Feb. 10–12.

An ACU board member lamented that Keene’s likeliest successor, ACU Treasurer Al Cardenas, may share the lack of commitment to social conservatism that has plagued ACU in the latter years of Keene’s chairmanship.

Keene has served as chairman of the ACU for more than 26 years, since Dec. 1984. A longtime Republican political strategist and adviser to several GOP presidential candidates, Keene is also the managing associate of the Carmen Group, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm, and first vice president of the National Rifle Association.

Keene is leaving ACU in a state of turmoil. The organization alienated social conservatives by permitting a homosexual activist organization, GOProud, to participate in its signature project, the annual CPAC convention. As a result, some of the best-known conservative organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Media Research Center and the National Organization for Marriage are not participating in the conference this year.

At the same time ACU has been rocked by a financial scandal in which hundreds of thousands of dollars was reported to the Internal Revenue Service as misappropriated and the group is coming under fire from national security conservatives for allowing Suhail Khan, an alleged associate of radical Muslim activists, to serve on the board.

“David has said he’s going to be leaving to pursue other opportunities,” said board member Becky Norton Dunlop. “This is going to be his last term.”

Keene is expected to become president of the NRA later this year.

“The ACU board will choose his successor,” said board member Morton Blackwell. Keene’s replacement “is yet to be determined,” according to Blackwell.

“The election [of the new chairman] will be held at the next board meeting, right around CPAC time,” Dunlop added.

The board members said only one candidate has stepped forward to replace Keene, ACU board treasurer Al Cardenas. Cardenas, a Miami attorney and Washington lobbyist, is the former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

Al Cardenas

A board member who asked not to be identified acknowledged that ACU needs “major structural changes,” but told WND he doubts Cardenas is the man for the job.

“From what I understand Cardenas is the insider’s choice, and he looks to be unopposed,” said the board member with disappointment. “I want to see reform. It’s frustrating to see a fig leaf rather than somebody who’s going to implement the reforms needed at ACU. Selecting Cardenas is like papering over the problems ACU has, some of which are fundamental.”

The board member pointed out that Cardenas “supported Charlie Crist even long after Rubio got into the race.” Crist, the socially liberale former governor of Florida, lost the state’s 2010 Republican Senate primary to Marco Rubio, speaker of Florida’s house. Crist then left the Republican Party and ran in the general election as an independent, but lost again to Rubio, a social conservative and tea-party favorite.


“I have a long history with Speaker Marco Rubio, personally, professionally, and politically, along with a great respect for his passion and his ability to articulate the conservative principles that we share,” said Cardenas. However, he went on to say, “As we look to the 2010 election cycle, I urge Republicans to unite the Republican Party by standing behind Governor Crist. With Governor Crist atop the ticket, I am confident that our party will achieve sweeping victories in 2010.”

“This is not the sort of judgment I would want at the head of ACU,” said the board member.

The board member observed that Keene’s commitment to social issues was perceived as weak, and added that replacing him with Cardenas was like “jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

“I have no problem with Al as treasurer. He’s done a good job with that, but the current leadership on the staff level needs to be changed. How could you miss such a significant amount of revenue? This is gross incompetence,” the board member continued.

“The CPAC director seems to be determined to bring in every crackpot group rather than define the core beliefs of conservatism. Instead, she’s chasing the ACLU, GOProud, and the John Birch Society. These are the long-term structural changes I’m talking about. ACU needs to establish a core set of beliefs. You can’t be a Romney group one year, a Ron Paul group the next and expect to build a consistent base of support.”

Cardenas did not confirm or deny his candidacy to become ACU chairman, but defended his social conservatism to WND.

“My ‘three legs of the stool’ conservative credentials are impeccable,” Cardenas wrote in an email. “I don’t believe that board members question my credentials.”

The modern conservative movement is often compared to a three-legged stool, with social conservatives, national security conservatives and economic conservatives comprising the three legs.

“You may not be aware of this but Marco Rubio was a shining star attorney in my law firm and he considers me one of his key mentors,” Cardenas added, inviting WND to contact Rubio directly.

Cardenas said he’d “get back” to WND to discuss how he would rebuild ACU’s relationships with social conservatives angry about ACU’s dalliance with GOProud, and national security conservatives concerned about Khan’s influence.