You’d probably have to go to a motorcycle rally to find a place where the libertarian spirit is more on display than at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, held over the weekend at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C.
The American Conservative Union, which organizes the conference has “always been happy to have anybody who’ll cover it, and the attendees are also extremely open and willing to chat with us,” says Ryan Grim, the Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief. On Thursday, as the conference kicked off, conference organizers happily let more than six representatives from the left-leaning site wander the halls, interviewing an exotic fellow in a tricorner hat here, getting some dotty quotes from Victoria Jackson there.
The sometimes winking coverage was streamed live, a first for HuffPo, but the site also got granular, covering a labor discussion, a conservative-dating seminar (don’t ask), and an insane-off between Andrew Breitbart and some Occupy protesters. Huffington Post was hardly an outlier, coverage-wise. TPM also flooded CPAC, deploying three to four reporters a day. “We’ve staffed up a bit this year because it’s an election year and we’re still in midst of the GOP presidential primary,” says David Kurtz, TPM’s managing editor. He says he doesn’t “recall any problems accessing the conference” over the years. Mother Jones’ David Corn was there. And Think Progress poked at some of the conservative movement’s fissures.
Of course, there was oodles of professionally neutral mainstream media at CPAC, as well as conservative news orgs and bloggers of every stripe.
Which makes the exclusion of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance, baffling. “A couple of us from Sunlight’s reporting group applied for credentials and were turned down. Without comment, as they say in the Supreme Court,” says Kathy Kiely, the organization’s managing editor. Kiely, who’s covered the conference before for USA Today, was hoping to cover a blogger reception for the super PAC American Crossroads. While Sunlight Foundation, she says, “certainly has a point of view when it comes to campaign finance (pro-disclosure), we’re utterly nonpartisan when it comes to sharing our tools.” The group has organized trainings at the Heritage Foundation, she notes, and hopes to be represented at this summer’s RightOnline conference.
What gives here? Is the American Conservative Union, seemingly so pleased to open the conservative movement to equal amounts ridicule and praise, more protective of people who write big checks? I’ve emailed and called ACU a few times since Thursday (the phone number I have just rang and rang without going to voicemail, so maybe it’s wrong?) and haven’t heard back. It would be my great pleasure to update this post with a comment!