Conservative group sought $2 million bribe

The powerful American Conservative Union (ACU), one of the major backers of the Republican Party and right-wing causes, attempted to extort $2 million from Federal Express (FedEx) in exchange for support in a legislative dispute.

When FedEx refused the pay, the ACU switched sides in the fight and backed FedEx rival United Parcel Service (UPS).

Incredibly, the ACU put the bribe offer in writing in a letter to FedEx.

That letter, obtained by the political news web site Politico, outlines in detail how the ACU and its chairman, David Keene, would stage public support for FedEx in its war to stop a Congressional move that would help UPS and let unions gain more of a foothold in the Memphis-based package carrier.

The letter promises FedEx, in exchange for the $2 million bribe, a staged "grassroots" campaign plus a series of op-ed articles and columns written by Keene and other members of the ACU board of directors, which includes scandal-tainted former GOP Congressional whip Tom DeLay, tax activist Grover Norquist and controversial National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre.

In the June 30 letter, signed by Dennis Whitfield, ACU Executive Vice President, FedEx is told:

We stand with FedEx in opposition to this legislation, and we will organize an aggressive grassroots campaign to stop the legislation in the Senate. Specifically, the ACU will work to highlight the critical aspects of the legislation including the unintended consequences – not just for FedEx – but for the American public as a whole…for the activist contact portion of the plan we will contact over 150,000 people per state multiple times at a cost of $1.39 per name or $2,147,550 to implement the entire program.

But after FedEx refused to pay, ACU signed onto a July 15 letter attacking FedEx:

FedEx’s campaign called “Brown Bailout” ( is designed to capitalize on public sentiment that is angry that hundreds of billions of dollars have been wasted in the name of bailouts. But since UPS is not seeking even one dime of taxpayer money, the campaign is essentially a disinformation campaign and should be stopped.

If FedEx wants to oppose the regulatory reform being sought by UPS, that is fine. But FedEx should use honest arguments and refrain from disingenuous and dishonest labels.

Keene, in a statement issued today, claimed he signed the second letter as an individual, not as the head of ACU. But that letter contains the ACU logo, indicating support from the organization, not just Keene.

"Pay for play" offers that barter support for causes in exchange for contributions or contracts are business as usual but such solicitations are seldom as blatant as the ACU letter to FedEx.

Keene is a long-time conservative power broker in Washington and has never let conflicts of interest get in the way of expanding his business or power base. The NRA executive director’s position on the ACU board is an exchange with the powerful gun-lobbying group. Keene sits on the NRA board as first vice-president and often writes strong pro-gun columns for The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, and publishes op-eds in support of the gun lobby’s position.

In 2002, Keene’s son, David Michael Keene, was arrested by National Park Police after he fired a handgun at another car in a road rage on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia. The younger Keene, an employee of ACU at the time, was mad because he thought the driver of the other car had cut him off. The bullet lodged in the headrest of the other car, just inches from the driver’s head.

Keene’s mother told reporters her son had a hair-trigger temper and a history of violent outbursts yet his father publicly supported the right of his son and others like him to own and carry a gun.

The elder Keene also has a quick temper and does not tolerate dissenting opinions within his organization. Sources inside ACU tell Capitol Hill Blue Keene has ordered a full-court press to find out who gave the FedEx solicitation letter to Politico.

(Updated at 1:10 p.m. EDT)


  1. DejaVuAllOver

    This is the M.O. of corporate America down to the lowest serfs. Hell, one company I worked for paid to have negative reviews written about the competition, the competition upped the offer and we were in a bidding war over the rights to slander each other. This may not be illegal, but tort law is only written when precedents are issued at settlement. Dick Cheney will be very difficult to prosecute because laws are few and far between for crimes of his caliber. That doesn’t mean he’s not a scumbag, only that the law is always playing catch-up with the moral rot that run this country and our companies.

  2. bryan mcclellan

    So if you won’t pay me to lie for you,
    I will lie about you for the other guy,
    if he pays me.

    How much clearer can it be that this is blackmail?

    What an excellent question for Sotomayor,
    she’s already been greased by the pigs. To late.


  3. griff

    Business as usual in DC. The argument about whether they are lobbyists or not is irrelevant. The fact that legislative support to the highest bidder is.

    The only lobby that should be relevant is one that represents the People. But of course the People are broke…

  4. almandine

    You know, he’s acting more like a Congressman or two we know, instead of a lobbyist.

  5. Doug Thompson

    Yep and Keene is now an enemy. He made good on his threat. He’s backtracking now, claiming he signed the second letter as an individual, not as head of ACU. But the second letter contained ACU’s logo so he lied which is also something Keene does on a regular basis.

  6. Doug Thompson

    I disagree. Maybe it’s because I worked in Washington for 23 years and saw first hand how the system works. Maybe it’s because I worked, for a while, for a political consulting company that sold services to the highest bidder. ACU wanted money to support a cause. When payment wasn’t made they went on record against the very people they claimed to support. It may be legalized extortion but it is extortion all the same.

    I know how David Keene works. The message to FedEx was direct and to the point: Buy our services because you don’t want us as an enemy.

  7. almandine

    Soliciting a contract to contact folks for a per-name amount is not extortion, no matter that he then opposed them when they said no.

    Extortion would require him to suggest that some future harm would come to Fed Ex that would “go away” if they agreed to the contract Keene wanted.

    I agree it’s all very pointed in its political gamesmanship, but it falls far short of extortion.