Former Attorney General Edwin Meese is organizing regular meetings of conservative activists to ensure social issues remain high on the GOP agenda.
Every Wednesday morning, about a dozen prominent conservatives led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese huddle over a Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast in a quest to prevent their movement from fragmenting.
The strategy sessions — held at the headquarters of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. — bring together some of the old guard’s familiar figures, including Meese, who ran the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan; Tony Perkins, the president of the council; and Alfred Regnery, former head of the conservative publishing house bearing his family’s name, according to sources familiar with the gatherings.
For the past two years they have served as ambassadors to the days when advocates for conservative social causes and fiscal causes were united at the hip — and the ballot box. The group is trying to reinforce the notion in conservative circles that issues such as faith, gay marriage and abortion are inherently tied to deficit reduction and limited government.
“One of my abiding passions is to facilitate the rejoining together of the various strands of the conservative movement into the single most potent and effective political force,” said Colin Hanna, president of the advocacy group Let Freedom Ring. Hanna attends the weekly meeting but declined to discuss details of its proceedings. “Over the last couple years social conservatives have realized that the entire movement is stronger when all are collaborated together,” he said.
The breakfast meetings, led by Meese, began in 2009 as an outgrowth of the Council for National Policy, a group founded 30 years ago by the Rev. Tim LaHaye, an evangelical minister, with the help of Paul Weyrich, an iconic conservative political organizer, sources said.
That year, the council brought in $1.8 million in total revenue and spent $139,000 on the activities of the breakfast meeting, dubbed the Conservative Action Project, according to the most recent documents filed with the IRS.
But the culture wars of the early 1980s that gave rise to the council have cooled, and Republicans in Congress are more focused on the budget and appeasing the fiscal conservatism of tea party activists.
A recent Washington Post survey of 650 tea party groups from around the country found that nearly all identified economic concerns as their top priority while almost none pointed to social issues.
Still, the champions of conservative social issues dismiss the notion that they have fallen off the radar of the Republican Party and the conservative grass roots. They argue that the recession has distracted voters, but their issues are intertwined with cutting government spending.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.