The son of two Wisconsin labor union organizers, David Keene has been active in national politics since 1968, and has worked for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and Senator James L. Buckley. Keene served as Chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU) from 1984 until 2011. The ACU organizes the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a gathering of conservative organizations that is frequently co-sponsored by the National Rifle Association. Friends have nicknamed Keene “Baby Doc David Keene,” comparing his ability as a conservative power broker to Jean-Claude Duvalier’s iron-fisted rule of Haiti. High-profile lobbyist Craig Shirley has said of Keene, “In all those years that I’ve known him, there was never an important conservative meeting which he was not part of.” Fellow NRA Board Member Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, has called Keene “a conservative Forrest Gump. He has been in the center of all things conservative for decades.” Keene serves as a Managing Associate at Carmen Group Lobbying, a firm that routinely collects over $10 million a year in lobbying fees. After becoming NRA President in May 2011, Keene stated that the organization’s “major goal is to defeat [President Barack] Obama [in the 2012 presidential election].”
Controversial Actions and Statements:
In the January 2012 issue of America’s 1st Freedom, Keene accused President Barack Obama of “working overtime to gut the Second Amendment,” stating, “This is a president who has signaled to the international anti-gun community that the United Nations should go ahead with its plan to develop a treaty that could severely restrict or eliminate our Second Amendment rights.” He warned, “We are facing the most crucial election of our lifetimes in terms of the Second Amendment … The bottom line is that our rights are truly in danger. We cannot rely exclusively on the courts or even Congress to protect them. We are the final line of defense of the Second Amendment. We all have to be prepared to fight as never before.”
In September 2011, Diana Hubbard Carr—David Keene’s ex-wife—was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to a year in prison for her role in embezzling over $300,000 from the American Conservative Union (ACU). Keene chaired ACU during the period that the embezzlement occurred, before resigning in May 2011.
In his address to the NRA’s annual meeting on April 30, 2011, Keene said, “Make no mistake about it. Barack Obama, his minions in the Justice Department, his allies in the Congress, and his friends in the media would take our guns if they could, and they will if they can.”
In a February 28, 2011 op-ed for The Hill, Keene compared Wisconsin public school teachers who opposed anti-union legislation to University of Wisconsin-Madison students who spent their “waking hours doing drugs, demonstrating, occupying campus buildings and dreaming of revolution” during the 1960s. Commenting on Wisconsin legislation that would largely eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees, Keene wrote, “[Republican Governor Scott] Walker is doing exactly what he said during his campaign would have to be done to save the Badger State from bankruptcy … That doesn’t make Walker an extremist, but a governor whose state books won’t balance because those who preceded him ignored those warnings and ultimately governed as if the ’60s would never end.”
During an address to NRA members at the organization’s annual meeting in May 2010, Keene said, “I remember those days well. Many of us would take our shotguns to school so that we wouldn’t have to waste time going home for our gear before rushing out after class for a few hours in the field before supper. I can’t for the life of me remember anyone objecting. Firearms and the joy of using them was part of life back then. Oh, I’m sure there were a few spoil sports who couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hunt and a few more who found guns abhorrent for one unexplainable reason or another, but frankly, I’d never heard of PETA. The Humane Society hadn’t been completely taken over by lunatics.”
Keene presented Roy Innis, the controversial director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), with the John M. Ashbrook Award at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference and said, “There is no living American I admire more than Roy Innis.” The award is named after one of the founders of the ACU who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 21 years as a Republican from Ohio. In his remarks, Innis warned of “a growing tyranny in our country” and said the candidates for the 2008 presidential election were “some of the most dangerous people to ever run for the presidency of the United States.” Speaking on the influence of CPAC, Innis said, “We have developed some skills. We are able to influence the Republican Party, and nudge it, and push it in certain directions. Let us teach those skills to our young brothers in the Tea Party.”
In an August 3, 2009 op-ed for The Hill, Keene expressed his opposition to federal legislation to ban fetish videos that depicted women crushing small animals. He wrote, “I suspect that the problem, its solution and the language that eventually became part of the federal criminal code were brought to the congressman’s attention by one of the so-called animal rights organizations with a far grander agenda than saving the mice or spiders or whatever other small animals had been crushed by whoever stars in such bizarre videos.”
In June 2009, when FedEx and rival UPS were embroiled in a legislative dispute, ACU sent a letter to FedEx offering to go to bat for the company at the price of $1.39 per grassroots activist contacted ($2 to $3 million for the entire project). One of the services offered to FedEx was op-ed pieces written by Keene. In the letter to FedEx, ACU expressed support for FedEx’s attempt to kill a piece of legislation that would have allowed nearly 100,000 FedEx workers to unionize. After FedEx declined ACU’s offer, the organization switched sides and supported UPS’s position in the dispute. In a letter in support of UPS signed by Keene, he called FedEx’s allegations against UPS “a disinformation campaign…that should be stopped.” The letter was also signed by fellow NRA Board Member Grover Norquist. The reversal in ACU’s position was widely seen as representative of the “pay- to-play” nature of Washington politics.
In a June 1, 2009 op-ed for The Hill entitled “Injustice Against Whites,” Keene claimed that during the 2008 presidential election “three” New Black Panther Party “thugs, dressed in paramilitary garb, were caught on camera wielding nightsticks to intimidate white voters who they suspected might not be prepared to vote for their candidate.” In fact, the video referenced by Keene showed only two members of the New Black Panther Party, and they were not interacting with any voters. One of the men was holding a nightstick and was later removed by police. Police received no complaints from voters at the site.
Keene tried to free up speaking time for Dutch politician Geert Wilders at CPAC in February 2009. Wilders has openly talked about hishatred of Islam, said that a contemporary Muhammad would “be hunted down as a terrorist,” and called the Muslim prophet “the devil.”Wilders also believes that the Koran should be banned in the Netherlands. Contemporaneous with the CPAC controversy, Wilders was barred from entering the United Kingdom because of his inflammatory comments about Islam. Anders Behring Breivik, the perpetrator of a July 2011 terrorist attack in Norway that left 77 dead, cited Wilders as an inspiration in his manifesto.
Keene authored a November 20, 2006 op-ed for The Hill entitled “Iraq is Dems Tar-Baby.” The phrase “tar baby” is considered by some to have a negative racial connotation and its use by Mitt Romney in July 2006 received widespread media scrutiny.
In a September 18, 2006 op-ed for The Hill, Keene wrote that in response to controversial statements about Islam made by Pope Benedict, “Islamic spokesmen reacted quickly, asserting that theirs is a religion of peace, condemning the Pope and blaming him as their followers began a new round of torching Christian churches around the world and killing those who attend them.” Keene could not “fathom why a religion’s leaders claim to be peaceful while so often encouraging or at least condoning violence against all who dare to disagree with them. I know there are moderate Muslims out there, but I must say that they are difficult to find when Muslim extremists take to the airwaves or streets.”
In May 2005, Keene spoke at an ACU dinner celebrating and defending then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was embroiled in a number of ethics scandals (DeLay has since been convicted of money laundering). NRA Board Member Cleta Mitchell served as M.C. for the event. Attendees at the event included DeLay himself, then-House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R – MO), then-RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, NRA Board Members Grover Norquist and Governor Jim Gilmore (R – VA), and approximately 30 members of Congress. The NRA purchased a table at the dinner for $2,000. In an interview with NPR a day after the event, Keene announced that “conservatives will protect their own” and called ethics investigations against DeLay “an attack on the conservative agenda” and “each and every” one of the 800 attendees of the dinner.
Keene’s son, David Michael Keene, was charged with attempted first degree murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison for firing a gun at another vehicle during a 2002 road rage incident. At the time of the incident, Keene was working with his father at ACU as an online communications director. Between the ages of 8 and 13, David Michael Keene was institutionalized seven times for “severe emotional problems,” including “a continuing problem with impulse control.”