Face of change at Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union

Gen­er­a­tion Xer Matt Sch­lapp ready to ruf­fle feath­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY RALPH Z. HAL­LOW

Matt Sch­lapp, the new chair­man of the Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union and its first born af­ter the group’s found­ing a half-century ago, is mov­ing quickly to put a uniquely 21st-century touch on one of the po­lit­i­cal right’s most sa­cred es­tab­lish­ments.

And in clas­sic Gen­er­a­tion X fash­ion, the 40-some­thing strate­gist who cut his po­lit­i­cal teeth in­side Ge­orge W. Bush’s White House ex­pects to ruf­fle a few feath­ers in­side an or­ga­ni­za­tion dom­i­nated for years by baby boomer con­ser­va­tives ad­dicted to a steady diet of Wil­liam F. Buck­ley Jr., Ron­ald Rea­gan and Stan Evans.

“Some will not like our new ap­proach, in­clud­ing some in con­ser­vatism’s Old Guard, but we have to take this chal­lenge on,” Mr. Sch­lapp told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Our phi­los­o­phy won’t change, but the chal­lenges fac­ing the coun­try are al­ways new. The same is true for ACU.”

For in­stance, Mr. Sch­lapp wants to ex­pand the group’s sig­na­ture Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence from an an­nual three-day event into a 365-day ex­pe­ri­ence. He plans to ac­com­plish that through on­line en­gage­ment of larger au­di­ences who can’t af­ford to make the an­nual pil­grim­age to Wash­ing­ton for CPAC or aren’t within easy travel dis­tance of the re­gional ACU events that his pre­de­ces­sor, Al Cardenas, es­tab­lished.

So­cial me­dia, on­line events and in­stant email alerts are all go­ing to play big­ger roles in the group’s grass-roots ef­forts. The aim is to cre­ate a coun­ter­bal­ance to Pres­i­dent Obama and the left’s gi­gan­tic elec­tronic tether to vot­ers, he said.

And, be­cause the ACU lead­er­ship is of­ten made up of lob­by­ists, lawyers, poll­sters and ad­vo­cacy group ex­ec­u­tives with their own agen­das, he wants to make the ACU’s de­ci­sions more trans­par­ent by cre­at­ing an “in­for­mal ad­vi­sory group” to ad­dress po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est.

“These ad­vis­ers I name will not be toad­ies but smart people who will push back and say, ‘Hey, we can’t do this or that be­cause,’” said Mr. Sch­lapp, who, like two of his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors, op­er­ates his own lob­by­ing firm.

The ad­vi­sory group will hash over pro­posed poli­cies and new projects, he said.

“As the new chair­man, I will not be mak­ing uni­lat­eral de­ci­sions in the pri­vacy of my of­fice,” he said. “I am go­ing to make sure we have savvy people dis­cussing pro­posed poli­cies and projects that con­cern the broader con­ser­va­tive com­mu­nity.”

Mr. Sch­lapp’s im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor, Al Cardenas, was a lawyer and lob­by­ist. The ACU’s long­est-serv­ing chair­man, now Wash­ing­ton Times opin­ion edi­tor David A. Keene, was a lob­by­ist who be­gan his Wash­ing­ton ca­reer as an aide to Vice Pres­i­dent Spiro T. Agnew.

Like his pre­de­ces­sors, Mr. Sch­lapp has a rep­u­ta­tion for pub­lic diplo­macy and re­straint, and he even sports a healthy head of sil­ver hair (in his case some­what pre­ma­turely for his age of 46).

But as a clas­sic Gen­er­a­tion X mem­ber, he also can ex­ude a youth­ful pas­sion about the is­sues he cares about deeply, isn’t afraid to be sharply candid and sees a chang­ing land­scape in which big busi­ness can’t al­ways be seen as the ally of a con­ser­va­tive move­ment that val­ues lib­erty above all.

“Amer­i­cans in this century should not make the as­sump­tion that cor­po­ra­tions are free mar­ket or con­ser­va­tive,” Mr. Sch­lapp said at one point in the in­ter­view. “Rather, they are out to max­i­mize value for share­hold­ers and that of­ten in­volves too much govern­ment.

“Yes, people at the top of Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions in some cases are po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive but in most cases it’s the op­po­site — they’re not con­ser­va­tive,” he said.

More of­ten than not, lawyers in charge of cor­po­ra­tions’ phil­an­thropic de­ci­sions are lib­er­als from elite uni­ver­si­ties, Mr. Sch­lapp added, mak­ing the point that it can be prob­lem­atic for con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions like his to rely on con­sis­tent cor­po­rate phi­lan­thropy.

Mr. Sch­lapp said he will sur­vey per­cep­tions “among con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions that have fallen away from us be­cause we haven’t been en­gag­ing them. I want to have con­ver­sa­tions with sup­port­ers who have not given us money in the last five years. And I want to see that our fund­ing pro­gram is cut­ting-edge and mod­ern. From what I have seen, it is not.

“Nor do we have a 21st-century com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­gram,” he said, “but we will.”


Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union Chair­man Matt Sch­lapp says so­cial me­dia, on­line events and email alerts will play big­ger roles.

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