On September 19, 1995, the influential Council for National Policy (CNP) sent its members a confidential memo featuring a "for your eyes only" interview with Congressman Mark Souder (R-IN), who, according to the memo, is "one of the conservative stars in the new Congress." Souder, a conservative Christian who interprets the Bible literally, has said that his theological views will shape his public policy. He was one of the signers of the "Contract with America." The confidential report sheds light on the recent government shutdown and the battle over the federal budget.
"We'll let the government shut down," Souder told CNP's interviewer, Alex Mooney. "This is not a game over whether the government is going to shut down. This is our maximum point of leverage to insist that parts of the revolution are executed. Because if they are not attached to money bills, they will never get through."
"The House Republican leadership," Souder said, "has said that the minimum goals are to balance the budget in seven years, reform welfare, save medicare, and have tax cuts." However, Souder added, "The freshmen have communicated to the leadership that that is not enough." Without the support of the new rebels in Congress, House Speaker Newt Gingrich found his hands tied.
"The question is the details of the budget," Souder said. He added that there are "social issues, regulation and environmental changes, and labor changes" that are of concern, and, for example, "Will we compromise on the National Endowment for the Arts?"
"We are not saying we have to have everything in all of those categories, but it better not be a stripped, nice presidential campaign thing for Dole and Clinton and not have anything for our [hard right] supporters."
When asked "What would really happen in a government 'shut down'?", Souder responded, "We don't know or really care."
"What can the CNP members do to support you to ensure there is no compromise on the key social and economic issues?" the CNP interviewer asked Congressman Souder.
"The big thing that CNP members can do is to bolster up individual [congressional] members and tell them to hold firm and do what you said you would do," Souder responded. "Tell them if you get heavy pressure, know that we are with you. CNP members can tell the [congressional] members with whom they have influence, 'if you have to vote against a continuing resolution in order to get our points of the agenda, we understand. Hold firm. This is our big chance.
"The pitch the leadership is making to the freshmen is: 'Are you really going to bring down the entire bill just because of your one point?'"
On January 4, 1996, three weeks after much of the federal government remained closed, the Christian Coalition's Washington office faxed an Action Alert urging its members to pressure President Clinton to give in to the Republican's proposed budget, and to keep the pressure on the House and Senate Republican leadership and conservative Democrats.
Christian Coalition president Pat Robertson is a former CNP president. He and Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed are active CNP members.
The Action Alert included a list of the crucial congressional leaders to contact. It also suggested holding press conferences, calling talk shows, and writing letters to editors.
The Action Alert emphasized that the issue at stake is more than balancing the budget, and included a point-by-point list of the hard right agenda. Some of the numerous items listed included: a permanent Hyde Amendment; abstinence education funding; education vouchers; a prohibition on unmarried couples adopting children; no funding in any way for abortion; zero funding for Goals 2000; a 40% reduction in the National Endowment for the Arts; and elimination of the Office of Surgeon General.
After the longest government shutdown in history, time will tell how the Council for National Policy, and its Christian Coalition members, affected the innumerable details of the complex federal budget.
Founded in May 1981, by the Rev. Tim LaHaye, T. Cullen Davis, and Nelson Bunker Hunt, the goal of CNP is to make the member's "shared moral values" dominant in domestic and foreign policy. If there is one group in the United States that serves as an umbrella for the hard right it is the Council for National Policy. The group's 500+ members represent the hard right's religious, political, and business leaders.
Former Attorney General Ed Meese III currently serves as president; Morton Blackwell is the group's executive director. Former CNP presidents include the Revs. Tim LaHaye and Pat Robertson, and Amway's Rich DeVos. CNP's first conference was held in Dallas on January 17, 1982. Membership is $1,500 a year, plus an additional $300 a year for Capitol Hill Report, the newsletter of CNP Action, Inc. The price of admission to the CNP's thrice-yearly conferences is additional.
The members of the secretive group meet clandestinely at specially selected cities to plot public strategy. The group's next meeting is scheduled for March 8th and 9th at the Buena Vista Palace, in Orlando, Florida. For two days, these leading political and religious right-wing leaders will gather under tight security to hear speakers, attend workshops, network, and socialize.
Ten years ago, when Freedom Writer started investigating CNP, a spokesperson refused to answer any questions, saying that the group "operates as secretly as possible; the members and officers names are kept strictly within the confines of the organization." At the time, CNP was located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Today it has offices at 3030 Clarendon Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia.
The Council for National Policy has taken credit for a number of conservative victories in Congress. They include: the defeat of President Clinton's health plan; the defeat of the President's attempt to allow gays to serve openly in the military; the Whitewater hearings; sidetracking the Freedom of Choice Act; preventing the passage of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting; stopping the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from prohibiting religious harassment in the workplace; and blocking the Lobby Reform Bill. Some members, such as John Doggett, testified on behalf of Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the CNP does not endorse or oppose candidates, lobby for or against legislation, or take official positions on policy issues, its affiliated group, CNP Action, Inc. is politically active. CNP is a tax-exempt (501)(c)(3) organization; CNP Action, Inc., is a (501)(c)(4), which is exempt from taxes, but contributions to it are not deductible. CNP Action, Inc. can lobby and conduct other political activity. CNP members who lobby usually do so in their own name, or in the name of the organization they head.
CNP Action, Inc. conducts the CNP meeting workshops, and follows through with reports on the sessions, including the appropriate action CNP members should take. For example, CNP Action Inc. interviewed Congressman Mark Souder, and sent the confidential memo to CNP members, urging them to push for a government shutdown in order to coerce President Clinton to include their agenda in the federal budget.
Every six months, CNP members receive "Update on Producers of TV and Radio News and Public Affairs Programs." This publication lists the names, addresses, phone, and fax numbers of all national radio and tv news and public affairs producers. CNP members use the list to write to producers to inform them of their area of expertise and interest. They are instructed to give the media their office and home phone numbers so they can be contacted when their issues arise. The purpose, of course, is to influence the thinking of the media and general public.
Once a year, CNP provides members with an analysis of members of Congress "who are the most open to persuasion." The report says: "These legislators, listed by state, have records over several years of frequently switching their votes back and forth between conservative and liberal positions on legislation with the categories of economic, social, or defense/foreign policy issues. 'Swing' Senators and Congressmen determine whether we win or lose legislative battles. If a majority of these officials vote on the conservative side, we can prevail. If they vote with the liberals, we lose."
"Please get to know these key legislators now," the report continues, "and maintain regular communication with them. Put them on your mailing list to receive your newsletter and other publications. They are open to your information and ideas. By establishing good personal and political relationships with them, you will make a real difference in the outcome of many votes in committees and on the floor of the House and Senate."
CNP Action, Inc. also sponsors standing committee workshops at CNP conferences which provide a vehicle for members to work together to influence crucial public policy decisions. According to a CNP memo, attendees at these workshops "formulate strategies and execute plans to make a difference on the issues where we can have real impact." The six permanent standing committees are:
For example, at the September 1995 meeting at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Cathie Adams, president of Texas Eagle Forum, proposed defeating the next United Nations women's conference in June in Turkey. Called "Habitat Two," she said the meeting's agenda includes zero population growth, livestock control, redistributing economic resources among countries, and city planning. "Conservatives," she said, "must unite and plan now to be in Turkey."
"It would be terrific," she added, "to get us out of the U.N. Our goal must be to both derail the liberal agenda in Turkey, and then defeat President Clinton in 1996."
The report on Ms. Adams' presentation concluded with the following "Action Item." "Contact the Representatives with whom you have influence and tell them to oppose any funding for Clinton's White House Council on Women, which he promised would implement the U.N.'s platform for action."
Every CNP Action, Inc. report ends with action items. They often name specific senators and representatives to contact; and often ask that the information be passed on to interested think tanks or other groups; and sometimes ask for names of foundations, companies, or major sponsors who might be able to help financially with the specific intended action.
While these tactics are not new, or particularly innovative, they demonstrate that the hard right is well-organized. Superb organizing and advanced communications skills help explain the many successes of the hard right. The Council for National Policy is the group leading the way.
After the March 8th and 9th meeting, CNP meets next on August 9th and 10th in San Diego. Their final meeting of 1996 falls after the national election, on November 8th and 9th, in Williamsburg, Virginia. While CNP may not endorse a presidential candidate, its members will surely oppose the reelection of President Clinton, and push the ultra-conservative agenda. There is nothing the hard right wants more than to control both houses of Congress, and the White House.