The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group's support in a bitter legislative dispute, then the group's chairman flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.
For the $2 million plus, ACU offered a range of services that included: "Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU's Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU's board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)"
The conservative group's remarkable demand - black-and-white proof of the longtime Washington practice known as "pay for play" - was contained in a private letter to FedEx , which was provided to POLITICO.
The letter exposes the practice by some political interest groups of taking stands not for reasons of pure principle, as their members and supporters might assume, but also in part because a sponsor is paying big money.
In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. After FedEx says it rejected the offer, Keene signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS. Keene did not return a message left on his cell phone.
Maury Lane, FedEx's director of corporate communications, said: "Clearly, the ACU shopped their beliefs and UPS bought."
ACU's executive vice president, Dennis Whitfield, said that neither the group nor David Keene, the chairman, took any money from UPS. Whitfield said the group has never received a response to its original proposal to FedEx. He said Keene endorsed the second letter as an individual, even though the letter bore the logo of ACU.
"Our position hasn't changed," said Whitfield, who was a deputy secretary of labor in the Reagan administration. "It won't change. I am fundamentally, philosophically opposed to doing what the Obama administration wants to do [to FedEx], and so is our organization."
FedEx and UPS, fierce competitors in the package delivery business, are at war over a provision under consideration in Congress that would expand union power at FedEx.
FedEx currently has one U.S. union contract for its entire express business. Under a change passed by the House and awaiting action in the Senate, FedEx - like UPS - would have to negotiate union contracts for individual locations, which FedEx claims would make it much more difficult to promise worldwide regularity for deliveries.
The American Conservative Union, which calls itself "the nation's oldest and largest grass-roots conservative lobbying organization," took UPS's side on Wednesday as part of a conservative consortium that accused FedEx of "misleading the public and legislators." ACU's logo is at the top of the letter, along with those of six other conservative groups.
Just two weeks earlier, ACU had offered its endorsement to FedEx, saying in a letter to the company: "We stand with FedEx in opposition to this legislation."
But there was a catch - an expensive one. ACU asked FedEx to pay as much as $3.4 million for e-mail and other services for "an aggressive grass-roots campaign to stop the legislation in the Senate."
"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," the letter says. "If we incorporate the targeted, senator-personalized radio effort into the plan, you can figure an additional $125,000 on average, per state" for an estimated 10 states. The total would be $3,397,550."
The letter shows one reason why activists get so much junk mail, both on paper and electronically: Some groups that send it charge handsomely for the service.
Under the grass-roots program ACU proposed, "Each person will be contacted a total of seven times totaling nearly 11 million contacts total in the 10 targeted states." "Within 72 hours of an agreement on the whole plan, we can have the data sets delivered and the first round of e-mail ready for delivery," the offer states. "Within seven days, the mail can be in the USPS system and the phone call delivered."
Lane, the FedEx official, said the offer was refused. "The proposal didn't fit with our strategy of taking a straightforward approach to discussing the issue," he said.
After the rebuff, American Conservative Union changed sides. ACU Chairman David A. Keene was one of eight conservative leaders who signed a letter to FedEx Chairman Frederick W. Smith, a champion of capitalism who in the past has been a favorite of conservatives.
The letter accuses FedEx of "falsely and disingenuously" labeling the rules change a "bailout" for UPS, since FedEx would become subject to the same arduous union structure.
The letter is also signed by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, who is also on ACU's board. FedEx is pushing its case with a website called www.BrownBailout.com.
The letter signed by the conservative leaders concludes: "To paraphrase the words of Ronald Reagan, ‘Mr. Smith, tear down this website.'"
Among the services ACU had offered to provide for the $2 million-plus price tag:
-Acquiring data of known conservatives in the targeted states (to be determined by FedEx), matching that data to an e-mail database and then incorporating those e-mail addresses with the current ACU e-mail database to create one targeted database of all potential activists.
-Sending a piece of targeted direct mail to these potential activists to ensure that they are well-educated prior to their contact with their senators.
-E-mailing the identified voter activists, in five rounds, in order to educate them on the issue(s) and to urge them to call their senators based on key dates. The ACU would include the phone number of their personal senators directly in the correspondence.
-Conducting targeted phone call campaign that will contact all voter activists to urge them to make a personal call to their senators. Each state would have a specialized message just for that state.
-Encouraging activists who live within 30 miles of a senator's district office to consider making a personal visit to register their concerns at the office. ACU has proved that we can turn out well-informed, quality voters who present a good image to represent our concerns.
-As the vote for the legislation nears, distributing ACTION ALERT e-mails, and after the vote has taken place, distributing MegaVote e-mails to ACU's members letting them know how their senators vote.