GOP leaders targeted over centrist retreat

Conservatives critics are blasting House Republican leaders for planning to attend a posh retreat next weekend with a centrist GOP  political group that has taken money from labor unions.

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Tea Party-affiliated strategists say the retreat in Florida, which will be attended by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), bolsters their argument that the GOP establishment in Washington needs a shakeup.

But the GOP leadership argues it needs to reach out to an audience beyond conservatives if they are to expand their majority.

Cantor and McCarthy will attend the gathering at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island, Fla. The event will be hosted by the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC.

Conservatives say the political action committee opposes Tea Party candidates and note that public records show it has taken money from labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union. 

“It’s problematic for conservatives when we see Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy going to attend events like this, when you have groups like the Republican Main Street Partnership that are ideologically opposed to the Republican Party platform and funded like elements like labor unions and Democratic donors. That’s a huge problem for us,” said Drew Ryun, political director of The Madison Project, a group that backs conservative GOP primary challengers.

Cantor, McCarthy and 25 other House GOP lawmakers will meet with donors to the centrist political action committee during the two-day event scheduled for April 12 and 13.

Public records show the donors include the SEIU C.O.P.E. Fund, the transportation trades department of the AFL-CIO, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the United Transportation Union PAC.

“This is another example of power over principles and connections over conservatism.  Everyone knows that this group is full of pro-choice members and is funded by big labor groups committed to defeating conservatives,” said Daniel Horowitz, policy director at The Madison Project and a contributing editor at RedState.com, an influential conservative website.

“Associations are important in Congress and it is clear that these associations speak louder than their conservative rhetoric,” Horowitz added. “This is why conservatives have zero confidence in the current leadership slate.”

Sarah Chamberlain, the executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership PAC, pointed out that the group's donors include many corporate groups such as Aetna and AT&T.

She said the event is strictly a policy event where politics will not be discussed and checks will not be exchanged.

“We have policy discussions. There will be no discussions about trying to defeat Tea Party members,” she said.

Cantor attends hundreds of events per year, many of them on behalf of conservative candidates and causes.

“Eric Cantor’s signature issue is school choice. Anyone accusing him of cozying up to labor unions has lost their marbles. This is judging the speaker by the audience,” said a senior GOP aide.

Chamberlain said labor PACs give money to her group because many of their members vote for Republicans.

“If you go to labor unions, they have Republican members. As a party we should be welcoming that,” she said.

Another conservative strategist, however, said the group is geared toward defeating conservative Republicans in primary races.

"They're doing it for a moderate group funded by labor unions that have made a point of defeating conservatives in primaries, which is very concerning to the grassroots," said the strategist who requested anonymity to avoid offending House GOP leaders.

The Republican Main Street Partnership PAC lists three GOP senators, Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and John McCain (Ariz.), and more than 50 House Republicans as its members.

Chamberlain said Kathy McDonald, a fundraising consultant who was hired by the Main Street Partnership PAC to organize another event, circulated erroneous information about the policy retreat in Florida.

McDonald said in a private e-mail to donors that the Florida event was intended to benefit “Mainstreet Advocacy” [sic].

“The organization’s mission is to significantly support and bolster our incumbents who are under attack from the far right, and ensure that we hold on to seats represented by pragmatic Republicans that we would otherwise loose if there was an ultra-conservative in the general runoff,” she wrote in an e-mail obtained by conservative activists.

Chamberlain said that characterization of the event is inaccurate.

“She is not an executive at my organization,” Chamberlain said.

McDonald did not immediately respond to a telephone message requesting comment.
Main Street Advocacy is a political advocacy group classified under section 501(c)4 of the tax code that was set up to oppose Tea Party-backed candidates and groups.

It is headed by former Rep. Steve LaTourette (Ohio), a labor-friendly Republican who is on the board of the Republican Main Street Partnership. LaTourette is close to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).