The Council for National Policy

The Council for National Policy (CNP), a 501(c)(3), is an influential network of conservative think tanks, right-wing religious extremists, Republican operatives, elected officials and wealthy GOP donors, which have gathered in secret for nearly four decades to advance their social and political agenda. 

Documented is releasing its archive of CNP materials below, which include:

Documented has also published 59 internal CNP recordings, from inside CNP meetings between 2017 and 2020, available here.

Background

On May 20, 1981, during Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, the Council for National Policy’s first gathering took place in direct mail entrepreneur Richard Richard Art Viguerie’s home in McLean, Virginia. According to a 1981 news report from the New York Times, Virguerie said “we have never had, up to now, any kind of broad, all-inclusive organization of conservative-thinking people, people who have a lot of leverage.” 

CNP founding members include Viguerie and:

  • Tim LaHaye and his wife Beverly, a Christian minister who also founded Concerned Women for America
  • Phyllis Schalfy, founder of the Eagle Forum
  • Nelson Bunker Hunt, a gay-rights opponent and Texas oilman
  • Anita Bryant, an anti-gay activist who founded the first national anti-gay group, Save Our Children
  • Joseph Coors, president of Coors Brewing Company and grandson of Adolph Coors who founded the beer company
  • Paul Weyrich who co-founded the Heritage Foundation, Free Congress Foundation, and American Legislative Exchange Council
  • Morton Blackwell, Leadership Institute Founder and President

During the Trump Administration, CNP has had numerous Trump appointees at their meetings, ranging from cabinet officials to Vice President Pence and President Donald Trump. 

After convening regularly for nearly forty years, CNP has mainly avoided the spotlight of news reports. From its founding, CNP has closely guarded its membership rosters and meeting agendas and has avoided public scrutiny.

A recent and groundbreaking investigation by the Washington Post revealed numerous moments from recent CNP sessions, showing conservative activists discussing “election tactics, amplifying conspiracy theories and describing much of America in dark and apocalyptic terms.”  

Membership

Up until now, the only comprehensive lists of CNP members that have been made publicly available (aside from its board members that are disclosed in CNP 990’s) in the last decade have been from a leaked copy of CNP’s 2014 membership directory obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center and a 2018 meeting packet obtained by Max Blumenthal

Documented obtained numerous membership directories, the most recent being from September 2020. The directories outline hundreds of members, including some overlap from the 2014 and 2018 directories as well as new members. 

Notable memberships in the September 2020 directory include:

Paul Teller: Teller is the Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Vice President at The White House. The Washington Post reported Teller’s comments about CNP’s 501(c)(4) arm the Conservative Action Project (CAP) weekly meetings. “It’s kind of this little secretive huddle that meets every Wednesday morning,” he said.

Scott Walker: Walker is the former governor of Wisconsin. In 2016, Walker ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign and then his re-election bid for Governor to Tony Evers in 2018. He is currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Young America’s Foundation. Scandals swirled around Walker during his time as Governor, including leaked court documents from an investigation into campaign finance violations, known as the ”John Doe investigation.” 

Charlie Kirk: Kirk was featured prominently the Washington Post investigation into CNP for his comments he gave at a CNP meeting where he relished in college campuses shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to Kirk, shutdowns would result in a half-million left-leaning students not voting in the upcoming election. Kirk is the founder and president of the national, right-wing student group Turning Point USA (TPUSA) that has faced  numerous controversial allegations, including racial bias and illegal campaign activity. 

Tracie Sharp: Sharp is the CEO and President of the State Policy Network (SPN), the corporate-backed, Virginia-based think tank network that coordinates numerous conservative think tanks across the country. SPN and its think tanks provide a valuable resource to the right wing infrastructure by providing testimony and reports favoring corporate-backed bills. SPN has ramped up their own federal lobbying efforts in recent years, including lobbying against Medicare for All and to block non-profit organizations, such as SPN, from disclosing its donors

Leonard Leo: Leo is the co-chair of the Federal Society and has reportedly been involved in President Donald Trump’s picks for judicial nominees. In 2019, according to a Washington Post investigation, Leo told CNP members during a February 2019 judicial confirmations were like political campaigns. “Leo is the maestro of a network of interlocking nonprofits working on media campaigns and other initiatives to sway lawmakers by generating public support for conservative judges,” the Washington Post reported. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) revealed Leo is tied to an $80 million dark money group called the Rule of Law Trust. 

Lisa Nelson: Nelson is the CEO of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a 501(c)(3) comprised of state legislators (largely conservative and Republican), corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups. Documented revealed Nelson announced at a CNP strategy session in February 2020 that ALEC had been working with three GOP attorneys on “action items that legislators can take to question the validity of an election.” 

J. Christian Adams: Adams is a former Justice Department official and the president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group involved in numerous lawsuits to purge voters from election rolls. The Washington Post reported Adams’ comments made during an August 2020 CNP meeting: “Be not afraid of the accusations that you’re a voter suppressor, you’re a racist and so forth.”

Mr. Lawson Bader: Bader is the President of DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, entities described as the ‘dark-money ATM of the conservative movement.’ He formerly served as the President of the climate denial think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute. Bader has also served on the board of the State Policy Network (SPN) and the Atlas Network. 

Adam Brandon: Brandon is the President of FreedomWorks, a conservative group that helped launch the Tea Party movement. Documented has previously reported FreedomWorks joined a coalition called “Save our Country” that pushed lifting pandemic-related restrictions. Numerous CNP members overlap in the coalition

Mrs. Marjorie Dannenfelser: Dannenfelser is the president of the anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List. In 2016, she chaired the Donald J. Trump for President Pro-life Coalition. Her organization has had tremendous influence in the Trump administration. According to Politico, SBA List helped “push to block family-planning clinics that receive taxpayer funding from referring women for abortions or commingling their finances with abortion providers.” 

Richard W. Graber: Graber is the President and CEO of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. The Milwaukee-based conservative foundation pours millions of dollars into dozens of right-wing think tanks across the country pushing climate denial and efforts to weaken unions. Recipients of Bradley grants include the Southern Poverty Law Center-labled anti-Muslim hate group David Horowtiz Freedom Center, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity (AFP). 

Ed Martin: Martin is the President of the Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund. Following the death of the Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly in 2016, Martin was ousted as president of the Eagle Forum and created a new “pro-Trump” faction of the organization called the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles. Phyllis Schlafly is also a founding member of CNP. 

Kristan J. Hawkins: Hawkins is the President of Students for Life of America. The pro-life movement has had numerous successes under President Donald Trump, including securing numerous anti-choice judicial nominees.

Below is the September 2020 membership directory in its full format. Redactions have been made to protect personal information:

CNP Member Interests

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Action Steps

CNP members meet together in-person three times a year and strategize about their collective goals. A number of the sessions at each meeting are action focussed, and the participants collectively agree on a set of “action-steps” that the members and their organizations (including the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and the American Legislative Exchange Council) will carry out before the next meeting. These action steps, revealed here for the first time, range from the broad to the hyper specific. Recent examples include protecting the electoral college and promoting restrictive voter ID laws, pushing for investigations of big tech firms, a variety of actions to protect Donald Trump, and a commitment to “issuing one new post on Facebook and Twitter each week about the Southern Poverty Law Center to discredit them.”

Below are CNP Action Steps obtained by Documented

Featured Documents

Documents ranging from meeting agenda’s, speaker remarks and newsletters, which have not been made publicly available until now, reveal numerous policy priorities by CNP members and meeting sponsorships.

Below is a compilation of these types of records, which were obtained by Documented.

CNP Membership Directories

Photograph of President Donald Trump speaking to the Council for National Policy on August 21, 2020 by White House Photographer Tia Dufour, license used under Public Domain.