The annual conservative lovefest is concluding today and I can’t help but feel that the conference which is now in its 42nd year is beginning to lose its luster.
There were a lot of changes this year, some seen, some unseen by the attendees, but all signaling that the conference may be running into trouble and that its long-term future may be in danger.
One of the biggest changes was that CPAC hired an outside company to handle the sponsorships and exhibits this year. With that change also came a large increase in fees for organizations to participate.
Even though the fees had been on a steady march upward they were still considered affordable by most of the organizations that I spoke with. But this year the minimum fee to co-sponsor increased from $5,000 to $18,000. After some howls of protest, the minimum fee was lowered to $9,000, which is still an 80% increase in one year and slightly above the rate of inflation.
Not only that, because of rumored financial issues, CPAC eliminated the Thursday night dinner and replaced it with a smaller event, decreasing the value of a sponsorship since sponsors received tickets to an albeit overpriced dinner.
CPAC also reserved fewer meeting rooms for sponsors, explaining that it was a hotel decision since they needed the rooms for other groups. But I know that wasn’t true because a check with the hotel a few weeks before found that there were at least three meeting rooms available that weren’t part of the CPAC block.
Exhibitors this year were also subjected to newer and tighter access rules to the exhibit hall, with each exhibitor being given just two passes for their staff and with every badge being checked scrupouslly at the doors by a guy who looked like he was a bouncer from a bar.
The worst part of the exhibit rules, were the shortened hours. Where in the past sponsors and exhibitors could access their booth early in the morning and stay into the early evening, CPAC limited the hours to five each for the first two days and four on the last day. That’s fourteen hours of official time compared to an estimated twenty-five in previous years. This isn’t an activist oriented exhibit hall, but one that resembles a professional trade show and makes CPAC look very corporate.
In speaking to some long-time attendees the feeling is that the fun has gone out of CPAC. One person I spoke to said he used to look forward to the event, but now is pretty lukewarm thanks to all the changes.
A few groups have dropped out in protest of the inclusion of GOProud, a gay Republican group, and the American Atheists – though that invitation was rescinded after a loud protest by co-sponsors.
For those that were either priced out or were protesting the inclusions of gays and atheists there was an alternative meeting on Thursday sponsored by Breitbart called the Uninvited. It was only a one-day meeting, but it could possibly grow into the counter-CPAC if things keep going the way they have been for the last few years.
As the exhibit hall shrinks and sponsors flee, CPAC will become less important to the movement in the future as true conservative alternatives spring up to take its place.