Americans for Tax Reform does not disclose its donors, but The Post reported in April that Crossroads GPS, the political organization co-founded by Karl Rove, gave Norquist’s group $4 million in 2010.
Norquist also has built clout among key activists and politicians in Washington and around the country through his regular Wednesday meetings. His focus on fiscal policy, a unifying issue across all facets of conservatism, has helped Norquist take on the additional role of a sort of orchestra conductor for the political right.
The meetings, begun in 1993 with a small group rallying opposition to President Bill Clinton’s health-care plan, now bring together fiscal hawks, social conservatives, tea party followers, home-schoolers, gun enthusiasts, opponents of same-sex marriage — even Republican gays and abortion rights backers — for invitation-only strategy sessions. Top GOP officials or their staff members attend each meeting, as do key conservative group leaders. During the George W. Bush presidency, the White House regularly dispatched senior aides to attend.
“I’ve never seen anyone who understands coalitions more fully,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which raises money to elect women who oppose abortion rights, and a regular Wednesday attendee. “I’m in there with pro-choice Republicans.”
The off-the-record meetings have been replicated in 48 states. Norquist and his staff help coordinate those gatherings, giving him frequent and direct access to governors, state legislators and key activists on the ground far outside the Beltway — and in the back yards of GOP lawmakers considering a break from the tax pledge.
In 2009, Americans for Tax Reform moved locations, and Norquist custom-designed a meeting space with stadium seating and a giant glass wall to allow for sidebar conversations among participants who come to network as much as to listen to presenters.
At the 11
2-hour meeting, an intern counts participants every 15 minutes so Norquist can monitor the level of attendance throughout each session. Last week, with Norquist at the center of the fiscal-cliff debate, there were as many as 205 attendees.
Norquist used characteristically colorful language to warn Republicans that should they agree to raise taxes on wealthy people, pressure will mount for them to give even more ground. “The reason you don’t want your fingerprints on the murder weapon,” he said, “is that someone will ask you to use it again.”
Heads nodded in approval.