The Warring Parties of CPAC 2012

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 9 2012 1:40 PM

The Warring Parties of CPAC 2012

Dennis Lennox is trying to convince me to go to the Scotch and Cigars party.

photo (2)

Lennox, the former Drain Commissioner of Michigan's Cheboygan County, now works with One Nation PAC, a relatively cash-poor (no Foster Friess money, sadly) but PR-astute organization that will host this party for the second year. The formula has not changed -- an invite list of Republican congressmen, a low-cost ticket for CPAC attendees, pricier sponsorship if you want it. You get a "fine selection of cigars and scotches, American and imported."

"I believe it's the top event at CPAC," Lennox explains. "The attendance at CPAC is changing, and there are more and more people under 40 who aren't going to the banquets." If they head to the Scotch & Cigars party, they can meet members of Congress, a Fox News reporter, and fellow activists. "We had a scandal this year," Lennox says, sarcastically. "Some organizations made a fuss about one of the members of Congress who was attending. It's all liberal dribble drabble. They'd attack him if he was working at a soup kitchen."

As we talk, Lennox's competitor walks by. ("It's a friendly competition.") Ali Akbar, a web media strategist (his own firm Vice and Victory just turned one year old), is walking the lobby to hand out passes to bloggers who've reserved them. Akbar is one of the founders of BlogBash, a party in its third year, which has moved from the offices of FreedomWorks in 2010 to the offices of Microsoft in 2012. The night before this, Akbar had given me the rest of the history and the reasons why his party was obviously superior.

"I contacted, personally, 176 right of center groups to ask if they wanted to co-sponsor," said Akbar. "Everyone from the RNC to digital firms. "I'm tasked with building the relationship with these groups, telling them they're not wasting their money by throwing bloggers a party."

Scotch & Cigars is open to anyone who'll pay; BlogBash is invite-only, and admission meant applying online and proving your blogger cred. "Over 753 people qualified," said Akbar. "We asked them to apply online, and 650 applied. We got that list down to 500. If you came from the heartland, you're an unpaid blogger, it was made known that you had precedence. And in the end 273 qualified, there were 93 sponsor tickets, and there's a private guest list." All of this was done from experience. "Last time, consultants got in, got to drink bloggers' drink and eat bloggers' food. We didn't think that was far. Getting your lit, or your book, or what have you -- getting that into the goodie bag is a privilege."

As Akbar hands out the passes I check in again on the start time and who'll be showing up.

"Some candidates asked about coming but never pulled the trigger," he said. "They asked if they could get in for free. Ha!"

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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