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American Conservative Union: Board of Directors files, 1964-1980

Identifier: MSS 176 Series 2 Sub-Series 1

Scope and Contents note

From the Collection:

Correspondence, notes, newsletters, memoranda, meeting minutes, charters, bylaws, resolutions, and miscellaneous items. The ACU has been active in raising funds, corresponding with conservative political leaders, supporting projects, helping candidates, providing advice, and addressing issues relating to conservative causes and political activities all over the United States.


  • Other: 1964-1980


Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open to use in accordance with the policies and procedures of the Department of Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. To call for items in the collection, ask for the call number MSS 176 and box and folder numbers as indicated in the following inventory. As with all library materials Fair Use laws apply. Credit must be given to the Harold B. Lee Library, Department of Archives and Manuscripts for all materials quoted in any published form.

Conditions Governing Use note

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances.

Permission to publish material from the American Conservative Union records must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

From the Collection:

American organization, also referred to as the ACU, to coordinate conservative political action in the United States.

1964 was a watershed year for conservatism. Arizona's controversal Senator, Barry Goldwater, had won the Republican nomination for President. The press, which had invested much time and effort in covering the race, declared Goldwater the winner long before the Republican convention in San Francisco. As expected, Senator Goldwater defeated Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania in a landslide victory.

The Goldwater campaign acted as a wedge which split the Republican party in two. Conservative Republicans rallied behind the Senator, while the moderate and liberal Republicans sided with President Lyndon B. Johnson. Once again as the election drew near, the polls and the papers predicted a landslide; and once again they were right.

The results of the election left the nation's Conservatives in a state of shock and bewilderment. The Republican party, which had been the vehicle for conservative action, lost whatever unity had previously existed. There was desperation on the Right.

It was this millieu that gave the American Conservative Union its birth.

On November 7, just five days after the election, several conservative leaders gathered to discuss the future of America's conservative movement. The influence of the liberal organization, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), was noted as having had a significant impact on the outcome of the eletion. The conservatives who gathered at the meeting realized that the conservative movement needed an organization similar to the ADA, one which would provide the leadership, unity, and resources necessary to gain political power. Within 40 days, the American Conservative Union was organized to fill this role.

The Bruce Year:

In December 1964 with a handful of administrators, a modest budget, and a small office in Washington, D.C., the ACU began its operations. At this early stage of development, the ACU and its leadership faced two complex challenges. The first was the tremendous task of building an organization that could meld the splintered conservative movement into a unified whole, the second was surviving the strains and pressures incident to becoming a viable orgainzation. Despite personality conflicts, financial troubles, and the other "growing pains," the ACU's first year was a success; foundations were laid and the ACU remained viable.

The first Chairman of the ACU, Donald C. Bruce, was a conservative Republican Congressman from Indiana. During the 1964 elections, Rep. Bruce had crisscrossed the nation campaining on behalf of Senator Goldwater. His talent and experience as a speaker was again drawn upon when he became Chairman of the ACU in December of 1964. Over the next eight months, Bruce made approximately 45 speeches throughout the country on behalf of the ACU. The popularity of Bruce as a speaker brought much needed publicity and spupport to the newly-created organization-ACU membership grew to 3,500 in the first six months and reached 6,526 by Septemer 1965- but popularity also brought invitations to speak before "questionable" groups. At a Board meeting on September 17, 1965, discussion centered around the Chairman's intention to speak at the upcoming "We the People" conference. Some Board members believed it unwise to associate the ACU with radical right-wing groups, while other Board members contended that the ACU presence would have a stabilizing influence on the conference. The Board ulitmately decided againt having their Chairman participate in the conference. Having already agreed to be the keynote speaker at the conference, Bruce was reluctant to cancel his speaking engagement under his own name. To resolve the dilemma, the Board sent a telegram under its name to the organizers of the conference and informed them that it did not want Bruce to attend the conference. The Board drew the line between the ACU and what it considered to be less "responsible" groups within the conservative community.

Two of the ACU's primary objectives were to consolidate conservative intellectual resouces and to influence public opinion. Both of these objectives were furthered by ACU studies, news releases, and publications. Under the direction of Frank S. Meyer, the ACU began commissioning and publishing scholarly studies on specific issues. Two studies were completed in 1965 and received wide acclaim in the media. The best of these was a study on the Vietnam conflict. Other studies nearing completion covered topics such as urban renewal, voting, and the United Nations. Several news releases issued byu the ACU had also drawn atention to topics of concern. Fourteen news releases had been issued by the end of August 1965 and had received attention in the press. The ACU Report, a bi-monthly newsletter edited by Carol Bauman, provided ACU members with editorial comments about current events and kept them apprised of ACU acivities

Fund raising was the lifeblood of the ACU. Whenever the level of donations fell, the staff had to be cut and political programs had to be postponed or scrapped. Fun raising efforts during the first year included direct mailing, membership dues, personal contact with potentially large donors, and adveretisments in conservative publications. Of these methods, direct mailing proved to be the most productive and the ACU invested in it heavily. Mailings were sent to ACU members and other conservatives several times a year. In September 1965, the return on direct mailing was averaging a respctable 7.3%. The only problem the ACU had with direct mailing was consistency. During 1965, fund raising ground to a halt on three different occaions. Each time, the Board had to suspend ACU activities and search for a new fund raising director. Several directors succedded in raising momentary surpluses, but none of them were able to sustain the kind of long-term results that the ACU required. Despite its problems with fundraising, the ACU accomplished many of its goals and covered most of its operating expenses during the first year.

Financial strains were just a small part fo the difficulties faced by Rep. Bruce during his term as Chairman. Personality conflicts and internal politics added to his frustrations. Only four months after his election to the chair, Bruce asked that the Board accept his resignation as Chairman. His request was unanimously rejected by the Board. In September 1965, Bruce again asked for approval of his resignation. For several years he had campaigned literally without a rest; first to win his seat in Congress, then to support the Goldwater condidacy, and finally to promote to ACU. The unbearable pace at which he was living was taking a toll on both himself and his family. The Board admonished him to take a one month vacation before returning to his duties as Chairman. One month later, Bruce submitted his resignation; this time irrevocably. The pressure of getting the ACU off the ground had been considerably straining, but he had succeeded. In his letter of resignation, Bruce summarized the progress of the ACU during his term as Charman:

I reliquish my responsibilities with a feeling of satisfaction that in the face of extremely trying cirumstances...the ACU has been a successful organization. The first several months of any organization must be utilized in laying a foundation upon which the future can be built. This we have done.

The Ashbrook Years:

With the resignation of Donald Bruce on October 21, 1965, the responsiblities of the Chair fell to ACU Vice Chairman John Ashbrook, a Congressman from Ohio. Ashbrook inherited a potential disaster form his predecessor. With fun raising at a standstill, the ACU's modest debt of $11,000 was on the verge of becoming much larger. Staff cuts and cost redutions soon crippled the ACU and raised doubts about its future. Directors submitted their resignations to the Board in increasing numbers. By May of 1966, many newspapers were reporting taht the ACU was dead. The recipient of this morass, John Ashbrook not only salvaged the ACU but transformed it into a stable and influential political organizaion.

Responding to rumours that the ACU was dead, Ashbrook asserted in June 1966 taht the ACU "had weathered that perilous time" and was still intact. His first order of business as Chairman was broaden the ACU's membership. To accomplish this, Ashbrook launched the "Action Now" program in Jue 1966. This program was designed to reach a significant number of the 25 million Americans who had voted for Goldwater in 1964. Through his program, Ashbrook hoped to rally "grassroots" suppport and increase ACU membership by establishing a network of conservative political action clubs on the congressional district level. The Action Now program was also the beginning of ACU field operations. Publisher William Rusher served under Ashbrook as the political Action Chairman and oversaw the activites of ACU affiliates in New Hampshire, Delaware, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Other states like Florida, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Maryland soon organized chapters and became affililiates of the ACU.

The programs and publications introduced during the Ashbrook years raised the popularity and effectiveness of the ACU to new heights. The idea of a news letter to cover the activities of the Republican Party was first discussed in January 1967 and eventually led to the creation of the Republican Battleline, later renamed Battleline. Issues began coming out in early 1967. At first, the ACU Report covered the important political news and Battleline reported on the ACU and the Republican Party. By mid-1967 however, the roles had reversed; the ACU Report began documenting the activities of the ACU itself, while Battleline foucsed on national issues and news. In the years that followed, Battleline became the primary publication of the ACU and enjoyed a wide readership among Conservatives.

The ACU augmented both its membership and its services in November 1967 when it absorbed the membership of the lobbying organization "Political Action Incorporated" (PAI). PAI's primary purpose was to influence key congressional votes through well orchestrated letter writing campaigns. The PAI also informed the public about bills affecting the role of government, alerted conservatives to issues requiring their concerted efforts, instructed the public on writing effective letters to their representatives, and directed the public as to who should best receive those letters. The merger combined the memberships of the two organizations and placed the entire operation under ACU leadership.

The ACU became involved in national elections for the first time in 1968 when the Board sent a representative to the Republican National Convention Platform Committee. While the ACU's participation in the drafting of the Republican Platform was minimal, the expertise perpared the oragnization for a larger role in future GOP conventions. One additional area of ACU involvement in th e1968 elections was the endorsement of presidential and vice presidential candidates. On March 17, 1968, the Board of Directors formally rejected the Wallace campaign. On September 15, 1968, they formally endorsed the Nixon/Agnew ticket. In 1968 the ACU was not equipped to affect an election in any significant way. However, it was better prepared when the off-year elections came in 1970.

In late 1969 the Board discussed the creation of an "ACU Campaign Committee" to raise and direct contributions to conservative candidates for the House and Senate. The creation of the "Conservative Victory Fund" (CVF) was approved by the Board in early 1970 and soon became an uprecedented success for the ACU. In its first year the CVF raised more money and made donations to more campaigns than all other conservative groups combined. Of the 61 candidates receiving aid from the CVF, 27 won election to the House or Senate. The success of the CVF suprised and pleaded the members of the Board and established the ACU as a power among conservative organizations. By the end of the year, the Board realized that to keep within the boundries of the election laws, the bank accounts of the ACU and the CVF would have to be kept separate. Later on, it would become necessary to separate teh Conservative Victory Fund entirely form its association with the ACU.

The ACU kept a close eye on the Nixon Administration. It issued a report on the President's first year, and also issued critical reports on his welfare reform proposals, Vietnam policies, and foreign policy in general. Combatting the Nixon Administration necessitated new methods and the ACU responded with a vigorous new lobbying program. The ACU's first serious lobbying effort was begun in 1969 when the Board of Directors committed their organizaion to an all-out fight against Nixon's Family Assistance Program (FAP). This effort included the publication of a critical report on FAP, a mailing and petition drive that generated 75,000 letters to Congress, and the distribution of over one-million anti-FAP brochures. Working with other conservative groups, the ACU laid down what was described by one reporter as a "barrage" against the Nixon bill. In another lobbying effort, the ACU played a key role in the defeat of a proposed amendment which would have abolished the Electoral College system. The ACU attack was foucused on those states which stood to lose representation if the amendment passed. To combat the proposal on a local level, the ACU instituted the "American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC) in October 1969. ALEC was composed of state legislators who were interested in sharing information and coordinating strategies. The ACU staff served as the intermediary for the legislators. After the amendment was defeated, enough interest in teh Council remained to make it a permanent organization under the direction of the ACU.

Taking an active part in the fight against the FAP and the Electoral College proposal raised ACU's political profile to new heights on Capitol Hill. Adding the CVF and a permanent lobbying department to the ACU increased its influence relative to other conservative organizations. With the recent decline of several rival conservative groups, the Board of Directors had reason to believe that their goal of leading a united conservative movement would soon become a reality. In a report to the Board of Directors on December 6, 1970, Executive Director John L. Jones summed up the accomplishments of the Ashbrook Administration:

I am sure all the Board Members realize the strides made by the ACU over the last five years. ACU is a serious political operation. We are widely quoted, our views are listened to by Congressmen and Senators and we are able to help candidates-- all the nessary ingredients for a successful organization.

The Evans Years:

As the newest member of the Board of Directors in 1971, M. Stanton Evans brought fresh ideas to the ACU, ideas designed to "get results." Assuming the Chairmanship of the ACU at his first Board meeting, Evans immediately emphasized making better use of the resouces available to the ACU. One such resource was the Press. Evans knew that publicity would draw attention to the ACU and its ideas. During his first year, Evans oversaw new publicity-generating projects such as the rating of congressmen's voting records on key legislation. He also encouraged ACU leaders to engage in more personal contact with reporters to improve the ACU's relations with the press. The ACU spent much of its time and money critiquing the Nixon Administration and its policies in 1971 an d1972. Increasingly, the press was utilized by the ACU to influence public opinion against Nixon.

The second resouce Evans encouraged the ACU to tap was teh legal system. Beginning in 1971, the Board decided to seize opportunities for law suits. The goal was to use legal leverage to reverse liberal trends in government and the media. Federal agencies were the primary target, but other organizations were also considered by the Board. In 1973 Evans worked with a former Nixon administrator, Howard Phillips, to begin "Public Monitor," a dubsidiary of the ACU dedicated to the tasks of raising public awarness about the federal bureaucracy and pursuing opportunities for legal action. The ACU went before the FCC in 1973 to complain about an NBC documentary on nationalized medicine entitled "What Price Health?" In the eyes of many, the documentary was biased in favor of nationalized medicine. The ACU worked with the AMA to see that private medicine received equal air time for a rebuttal. To pursue legal battles such as this, Evans proposed the creation of the "American Legal Committee" in that same year. This organization was created to seek out and engage in lawsuits, and was to serve as the legal arm of the ACU.

Publications were another resource that the ACU used more effectively during the Evans Administration. The Public Monitor's Fine Print attrated a readership of several thousand and Battleline began to pay for itself under the editorship of John Lofton. More ACU special studies were commissioned and distributed than ever before. One reason for this increase is scholarly studies was teh creation of the ACU Education and Research Institute in 1973. The ACU-ERI produced and published dozens of scholarly studies, thos making the Evans years the most intense publishing period in ACU history. The ERI has remained Evans' personal project. After stepping down as ACU Chairman in 1977, Evans retained his postion as the ERI and continues to serve as its director.

The ACU was always concerned with the future of conservatism. At the February 1973 Board meeting, a report was given on the "congressional placement program". The intent of this program was to place interns in conservative congressional offices and to increase the conservative pool of talent and experience. By February 10, 1973, 800 resumes had been collected and 25 persons had been placed.

Unifying conservatives and providing them with leadership became a priority for the ACU under Evans. In January 1974 Evans instituted what became a long-standing institution of the ACU and of the conservative movement as a whole, the Conservative Political Action Conference. The ACU sponsored it with other organizations, but the ACU always had the most responsibility for the planning and success of the conference. Each year CPAC featured seminars and panel discussions on key issues which were important to conservatives. Because of the breadth of exposure the conferences received, the ACU was usually able to draw the top speakers and premiere conservative leaders, which can be seen from the programs and transcripts within the collection. Evans was the Chairman during the first four of these conferences and was largely responsible for their success. The themes at teh conferences varied each year according to the needs of the conservative movement. The first CPAC focused on election and campaign strategies. The following year, the conference focused on the question of leadership--whether or not conservatives should start their own party.

Many conservatives were disenchanted with the major parties byu 1974 and began to search for alternatives. The idea of creating a conservative party soon caught on and became the center of debate among conservatives. Anxious to make things happen, Evans and the ACU made this question the theme of CPAC 1975. The Board decided that a committee should be organized at the close of the conference to investigate the feasibility of organizing a conservative party. This was intended to give the conference participants the feeling that they had acutally done something about the question instead of just debating it. It was also intended to put the ACU at the head fo the conservative party movement, should it come to be. On the last day of CPAC 1975, the conference participants passed a resolution to create the committee on Conservative Alternatives (COCA). During mid-1975 COCA explored the political options available to Conservatives in the upcoming election. COCA gathered information about state election laws with an eye towards starting a Conservative Party in each state. The ACU staff did most of the research from the national office in Washington, but volunteers from all over the country expressed interest in the project and contributed their assistance tot eh committee. After completing its study of state election laws, COCA took steps to keep the option of a new party viable, but it never formally recommended that option; the condidacy of Ronald Reagan made it anomalous.

In June of 1975, Chairman Evans submitted a formal resolution to the Board to call on Ronald Reagan to run for President in 1976. When Reagan announced his candidacy, the ACU launched a massive independent Reagan campaign to give their candidate an edge in the race for the GOP nomination. The campaign effort was concentrated in key voting districts across the country and included radio sports, newspaper advertisements, and political rallies. State affiliates played important roles in strategic primary elections such as North Carolina where ACU workers made a major contribution to the victorious Reagan campaign. In 1976 the ACU committed itself to the Reagan effort almost exclusively. Total committment brought many successes--the ACU had more impact on the 1976 election than on any election before or since--but funding for other programs, such as the CVF, suffered neglect. By mid-June of 1976, the ACU had spent $230,000 in its all-out effort to put a conservative in the White House.

The defeat of the Reagan campaign temporarily dampened the enthusiasm of ACU leaders. After the election, the ACU had a falling out with Republican Party leadership. The members of the Board believed that the GOP was being underminded by liberal leadership. They decided to exert greater influence in the party by blackballing liberal candidates for the Republican National Committee Chairman (see Board minutes, December 12, 1976). The tone of ACU leadership turned defeatist for the remainder of Evans term and leaders began focusing on the weaknesses of the conservative movement. Despite these setbacks, the ACU moved forward into its most influential and successful period, which was built by all the previous chairmen, and culminated in the Crane Administration.

The Crane Years:

Under the direction of Indiana Congressman Philip M. Crane, the ACU entered a time of great popularity and progress. The tone of the new administration was more upbeat and confident than that of previous administrations. The Board of Directors began to focus on how their organization and the Conservative movement were going to succeed instead of perpetuating the defeatist theme that had once existed. As part of this change, the Board publically laid to rest its quibbles with other Conservative groups and joined with them more often to accomplish their common objectives.

The ACU addressed itself to a wide variety of issues during the Crane years. In addition to the debates over the Panama Canal treaties and SALT II, the ACU became increasingly involved in national energy policy, abortion, labor, tax reform, and a host of other issues To increase the effectiveness of the ACU in each area, Crane developed specialized committees called "task forces." Experts on given issues were invited to serve on these committees which were designed to translate ideas into political action. Crane succeeded in attracting many leading Conservatives to his task forces. By 1978, ten task forces were in operation, including the Defense Task Force chaired by Senator Jake Garn, the Energy Task Force chaired by Rep. Bell Archer, and the Task Force on Conservative Initiatives (a vestige of COCA) chaired by James Buckley. The task forces were an important part of fufilling the mission of the ACU, because they bought conservative leaders together, educated the public on key issues, and contributed to the credibility and political clout of the ACU.

During the Crane Administration, the ACU had its greatest impact with its fight over the Panama Canal treaties. The ACU virtually lead the fight nationwide, and as a result, its public exposure, fund raising, and leadership within the conservative community reached an all time high. The effort included a rally on the Capitol stepas, letter writting campaigns, radio and newspaper advertisements, and a television documentary. One highlight was a "Truth Squad" tour in which several prominent congressmen flew from airport to airport holding news conferences and speaking out against the treaties. Board member Mickey Edwards also undertook a lawsuit against the Carter Administration for spending over $1 million in taxpayer funds to lobby for the treaties.

In another confrontation with the Carter Administration, the ACU vigorously lobbied against the SALT II treaties. This effort included a SALT seminar, a bevy of special reports and studies on national defense and strategic imbalance, and a television documentary. To increase the impact of its message, the ACU enlisted the help of experts from government, military, and academic circles.

The national debates over SALT II and the Panama Canal were a boon to the ACU. Membership growth was phenomenal, from 280,000 in December 1977 to 325,000 in December 1978. Fund raising revenues climbed thirty-three percent; from $2 million in 1977 to $3.1 million in 1978. These revenues finaced the largest budget in ACU history. State and local affiliates also grew in size and number. Over 40 affiliates and joined by the end of 1978, and more were in the process of organizing. The level of political activity among affiliates was at an all time high. In every measurable way, the ACU neared the zenith of its political career in the wake of the Panamal Canal and SALT II debates. In February 1979, Crane completed his term as Chariman and announced his candidacy for President. Rep. Robert Bauman replaced him as Chairman.

The Bauman Years:

One of the first things Congressman Bauman did when he took over the Chairmanship from Congressman Crane was to determine exactly where the ACU stood financially. There had been some discrepancies in the financial reporting, and to their dismay, the auditors found that the ACU was over $150,000 in debt. This was the beginning of the end.

Much of the debt centered around a direct mailing contract the ACU had with Bill Bonsib, Inc. There were discrepancies in the amount which the ACU owed because Mr. Bonsib had not paid Maryland State tax on some of the printing he had done for the ACU. Mr Bonsib was having some health problems and needed the money, and he and the ACU were trying to come to an out-of-court settlement.

About this same time, on June 28, 1979, the ACU became an incorporated non-profit organization in the District of Columbia. The Board had discussed the advantages of incorporation for several years but had never acted on it, until the Bonsib lawsuit. One consequence fo unicorporation was that each member of the Board was personally liable in the suit. Incorporation was, at least in part, a move to protect the members of the Board.

In September, the ACU formally sued the Carter Administration for using over $1.2 million in taxpayer funds to lobby for the SALT II treaties. Curt Herge, ACU general counsel, was handling the legal details. All Board members who served in Congress were included as co-plaintiffs.

The successes of the Bauman years, however, were overshadowed by financial difficulties. Conservative money that might have been directed toward the ACU was being given to various campaigns and other political action organizations. The ACU was unable to stay within its budget due to large payments on the $200,000 Bonsib setttlement and the cost of maintaining ACU activities. Staff cuts were made, followed by more staff cuts. By February 1980, the cumulative deficit was $441,537. During the balance of 1980, the financial situation went from bad to worse.

There were some major successes in the Bauman years, however. One of them was the formation of the Conference of National Association Chief Executive Officers. The conference was open to business leaders interested in preserving the free enterprise system through political action.

One of the high points in 1980 was a fund-raising package that Ronald Reagan signed for the ACU. Mr. Reagan was riding the heights of his popularity, and was soon elected President. He remembered past ACU support. Early returns from the mailing infused the floundering ACU with new hope, but even this fun raising effort, endorsed by the most popular man in America, only borke in the end. It was not enough to stay the rising tide of financial ruin.

As 1980 drew to a close, and ACU experienced the most tragic of all its trials. When hope was in sight with the early success of the Reagan mailing in November, a scandal involving Chairman Robert E. Bauman became public. After a night of drinking, he had solicited sex from a teenage boy. Bauman had been a strong defender of morality in Congress, and had fought against both the vices that led to his downfall. Bauman had been with the ACU since its inception, and had both contributed to and benefitted from the organization throughout its entire existence. Ironically, it was Bauman who came tragically close to destroying the ACU. As expected, he resigned from the Chaimanship. Congressman Marvin Henry "Mickey" Edwards took over as the new ACU Chairman.

Apart from the above, there is no printed or manuscript history of ACU. The information for this history was gathered from the collection itself. Printed material and manuscripts which deal with ACU history since 1980 have been retained in the central office of the ACU in Washington, D.C. Those materials have come to the BYU library and are found under the number A# 93-102.


8 boxes

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids note

A more detailed finding aid is availble in print in the repository

Other Finding Aids

File-level inventory available online.

General note

The governing body of the ACU was the Board of Directors. This series contains minutes of Board meeings in which the major policies of the ACU were outlined; files kept by the ACU on individual members of the Board, correspondence and documents pertaining to their personal careers and accomplishments; and mailings which were sent to all Board members.

Chairman of the Board of Directors (in chronological order). Includes: Donald C. Bruce, John C. Ashbrook, M. Stanton Evans, Philip M. Crane, Robert E. Bauman.

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States