[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/22/art.davidkeene.0222.file.gi.jpg caption="CPAC’s chief organizer, David Keene, says Mike Huckabee’s recent comments about his event have ‘perplexed’ the American Conservative Union."]Washington (CNN) - The organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference are hitting back at former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who argued over the weekend that the annual convention's influence among conservatives is waning.
CPAC is becoming "increasingly libertarian and less Republican," Huckabee told Fox News on Saturday, one reason he said he decided not to attend this year.
But that claim is not true, said David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which has organized CPAC for 37 years.
"We were frankly a perplexed by Governor Huckabee's comments about CPAC given our long and cordial relationship with him and his family," Keene said in a statement provided to CNN.
Keene said Huckabee could not appear at the conference due to a scheduling conflict with his television show. At no point, he said, did Huckabee express concerns about the legitimacy of the event.
"We offered him several time slots, but on December 18th received an email from his scheduler saying essentially what the Governor's daughter told reporters over the weekend," Keene said. "The email from Kristin Dulin, the Governor's Director of Scheduling, said that he wouldn't be able to join us because he would have to be in New York to do his show, but assured us that he 'appreciates the invitation and hopes that you have a wonderful event.'"
Huckabee, who finished a disappointing tie for sixth place in the CPAC presidential straw poll, also accused the conference of being a "pay for play" event, not "truly grassroots."
Keene said the governor "has been misinformed."
"Many of those invited are from groups that are neither co-sponsors nor financial supporters of the conference itself," he said in the statement.
Full statement from American Conservative Union chairman David Keene after the jump:
I can only assume that the Governor has been misinformed as to how CPAC operates. Our cosponsors meet several times before each conference to suggest topics and speakers who they believe should be invited. Many of those invited are from groups that are neither co-sponsors nor financial supporters of the conference itself. This year, for example, groups that provided speakers without having to "pay to play" included among others Fox, the American Enterprise Institute, The Club for Growth, The Tea Party Patriots, Students for Life and dozens of others.
The Governor himself has spoken at several CPAC conferences in the past and we worked with him to see if we could get him to CPAC 2010. We offered him several time slots, but on December 18th received an email from his scheduler saying essentially what the Governor's daughter told reporters over the weekend. The email from Kristin Dulin, the Governor's Director of Scheduling, said that he wouldn't be able to join us because he would have to be in New York to do his show, but assured us that he "appreciates the invitation and hopes that you have a wonderful event."
We did! CPAC 2010 drew more than 10,000 conservative activists from around the country representing every part of the movement and including more than 5,000 college students. The Governor's daughter Sarah, who introduced her dad at last year's conference, was part of the record-breaking crowd this year. Sarah participated in XPAC, the student lounge at CPAC sponsored by Xtreme Media (radio hosts Kevin McCullough and Stephen Baldwin). Organizers said she did a great job and the CPAC students loved her.
We hope next year she'll be back and bring her dad!