Conservative bloggers hold a private CPAC party, ‘insiders’ need not apply

WASHINGTON -- Conservative political bloggers are having the equivalent of a midlife crisis. A recent explosion of right-leaning groups and publications that pay bloggers--much like liberals have done for years--has left some of the old-schoolers wondering if their trade is worth the effort.

For years, they have toiled at their home computers after long days spent working full-time jobs, writing on behalf of Republican candidates and battling online with their counterparts on the left. Most of them don't live near the East Coast power cities of New York and Washington. They spend their own money traveling across the country to attend political conferences and even hit the campaign trail on their own dime, loading gigabytes of video onto their sites.

So, on the first night of the Conservative Political Action Conference, while the VIPs held a pricey reception at a Marriott hotel in northwest Washington, many of these rogue scribes held their own party. You probably weren't invited. Which was the point.

At the offices of the Microsoft Innovation Center in downtown Washington, bloggers lucky enough to receive an invitation mingled over free booze and cake, and celebrated themselves. The annual party, known as "Blog Bash," began four years ago at a time when the organizations that run conferences like CPAC still charged bloggers to attend and delegated them to the basement. It has grown from a small dinner into a premier after-party with a budget of more than $30,000.

Organized by a group of non-Beltway types like the Texas-based bloggers Melissa Clouthier, and Ali Akbar, and the conservative new media guru Aaron Marks, this year's Blog Bash secured sponsorships from Rick Santorum's presidential campaign, Microsoft, the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks, the D.C.-based tea party group run by Dick Armey.

Yet most of the people at CPAC who work for Washington-based groups or write for some of the larger publications on the right didn't get an invitation.

"I'm not concerned about the consultants I left out or the D.C. inside baseballers I left out," Akbar told Yahoo News. "This is really for heartland folks and people who fly in on their own dime."

The party has become a way for bloggers to flex their muscle in front of the Washington political operatives, and maybe even make the D.C. crowd jealous of them for a change.

"Two years ago, nobody cared," Clouthier said. "The only people who wanted to come were bloggers and a couple of my friends out here. D.C. though, it's the type of thing where if they can't have it, they want it. And all of the sudden people who don't give a crap about bloggers want to come."

Organizers used the party to announce the formation of a new nonprofit started with seed money from millionaire Santorum-backer Foster Friess. Called the "National Bloggers Club," the group will use donations to fund private reporting projects. It also hopes to issue press passes, serving as a clearinghouse so event organizers can differentiate between a blogger with honest intentions versus someone looking for a free pass by starting a Blogspot account. But mostly, the organizers said, the new organization will support and encourage online writers.

"On the left, they take care of their own. They respect their own," Clouthier said. "They take care of their bloggers."

At the party at Microsoft on Thursday night, the bartenders served up free cocktails and beer while the rock band Madison Rising played a live set. Near the end of the night, Blog Bash organizers announced an awards ceremony, during which filmmaker James O'Keefe was granted a "Sunlight" prize for a short film revealing how easy he believes it is to vote in New Hampshire under a false name.

A hero on the right and a villain to the left, O'Keefe walked to the front of the room, grabbed the microphone and pretty much summed up the night.

"I say," O'Keefe said, after thanking the group for the award, "Fuck the media!"

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