WASHINGTON -- The Log Cabin Republicans gained a significant amount of publicity for their full-page ads in The New York Times and The Washington Post attacking Chuck Hagel's nomination as Defense secretary, and drawing attention to the former GOP senator's controversial record on gay rights.
But the offensive has also ticked off at least one of the group's own members, who is quitting after being involved for the past decade.
In 1998, Hagel called James Hormel, then President Bill Clinton's choice for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, “openly, aggressively gay." He characterized Hormel's sexual orientation as an "inhibiting factor" that would prevent him from doing "an effective job." Hagel recently apologized, saying his 1998 remarks were "insensitive."
While many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups have said they would like to hear more from Hagel during his confirmation process about moving forward on issues like benefits for gay service members' partners, they have generally accepted his apology and pushed for his confirmation.
The Log Cabin Republicans, on the other hand, have aggressively opposed Hagel and questioned the seriousness of his apology, saying it's "too little, too late."
Berin Szoka is the president of TechFreedom and until recently, a member of the D.C. chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. He and his partner used to host the annual holiday party for the group.
But on Monday, he wrote an op-ed on the RealClearWorld website expressing his disappointment with the attacks on Hagel and announcing he was quitting the Log Cabin Republicans. He also has launched a petition on Change.org calling on the group to change its tactics.
"It's not only outside the proper scope of what Log Cabin Republicans should be doing, but in this case, it directly undermines what should be their central goal: getting Republicans to do what Chuck Hagel has done, which is to evolve his position and come out firmly and strongly in favor of gay equality," said Szoka in an interview with The Huffington Post on Wednesday. "I just find both grossly hypocritical and also terribly shortsighted. At the end of the day, their day should be ... to endorse and support Republicans who make progress on gay issues. ... And that's clearly not what happened here."
Szoka finds a disconnect in the fact that the group's Hagel criticisms come after the organization endorsed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, despite the fact that he opposed marriage equality and took many hardline positions on gay rights during the campaign.
"Why would any senator now, having seen this experience -- why would they make the progress that Hagel's made when this is the reward they're going to get for doing this?" asked Szoka. "The same problem with the Romney endorsement -- why would the next presidential candidate try to do anything on gay issues, if they're going to get their [Log Cabin] endorsement anyway?"
Gregory Angelo, the interim executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, responded that their Hagel opposition is "completely in-line with our history of support for the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"
"The fact that his apology was issued to the media initially rather than to Hormel directly gives us cause to question its sincerity, and we have too much to lose to roll the dice on a secretary of Defense nominee who may or may not smoothly implement a policy we invested a great deal of time and money to repeal," he told The Huffington Post. "We welcome evolution on issues of gay rights, but the timing of this evolution, the way it was announced, and Hagel's record, support for DOMA as well as his statements about 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' make him the wrong choice for this nomination."
The Log Cabin Republicans have declined to give specifics on how they funded the ads. R. Clarke Cooper, who recently stepped down as head of the organization, said in December that the group received a discount on the New York Times ad -- full-page placements can cost more than $100,000 -- and paid for it by soliciting donations from multiple contributors.
In his op-ed, Szoka -- who backed Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in the presidential race -- also praised Hagel's record on national security and took issue with the neoconservative worldview. He worried that by getting involved in foreign policy, Log Cabin Republicans may be straying from its primary purpose.
"Until Log Cabin -- and GOP groups more generally -- is led by someone who respects disagreements of principle on the Right, they’ll never succeed in building a more inclusive party," wrote Szoka. "If they don't focus on issues gay conservatives can agree on, they'll remain -- like so many other GOP establishment groups today -- just another pawn of ideologues who would sacrifice everything, including gay rights and gay soldiers, on the altar of "national greatness."
Angelo recently told The Huffington Post that the new ads were "part of a broader communications strategy our board of directors has been developing over the last year."
"The next couple of years will be critical with regard to compelling the GOP to change its position on a number of issues relevant to the gay community, and we made strategic decisions to ramp up our sophistication and profile," he said.
In late December, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) also issued a blistering statement against Hagel for his record on LGBT rights, but he has since dialed back his criticism.
UPDATE: Jan. 15 -- Robert Turner II, president of the D.C. chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, argued in a statement to The Huffington Post that Szoka was not an active member.
"When was the last time you attended a DC LCR meeting? As a matter of fact, when was the last time YOU PAID YOUR DUES? Sure, you and your former partner hosted our Holiday Parties back in 2008 and 2009. They were lovely events and everyone had a great time. But I’m gonna call a spade a spade," said Turner. "You haven’t been a member of our chapter for quite some time. And to say otherwise is an outright lie. I take no issue with you having a problem with our National organization’s position on a Democrat president appointing a Republican to his cabinet. Many in our chapter do. But I do take umbrage with you claiming to quit an organization which I lead, when you have not been a dues paying member at all during my tenure as president."
Szoka responded that Turner's response was a distraction from the larger issue of whether the group was straying from its mission.
"The reality is, I didn't pay my dues for the last three years because they didn't ask me to," he said. "As a gay Republican in D.C. politics, I have been to Log Cabin events, and I'm not going to do that any longer. So I stand by what I said. If they want to define membership by who's on their list for having paid dues, that's not exactly a great way to run an organization in the Internet era."
UPDATE: Jan. 10 -- The Log Cabin Republicans sent along an additional comment on Szoka leaving the group:
Log Cabin Republicans has chapters all over the country and hundreds of members. While we hate to see Berin leave the DC chapter, the fact is there will never be 100 percent agreement on any issue across our membership or likely even on our national board of directors. With every election, with every position we take, we lose people and we gain people. By taking a strong, principled stand against Chuck Hagel's nomination-and the risks we see that nomination posing toward the smooth implementation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"-Log Cabin Republicans has seen a dramatic increase in general operating fund donations and renewed enthusiasm from many of our supporters. We have actually gained new trustees and new members. So while the media might find it expedient to hype one chapter member's disagreement, the fact is, while some gay groups like Stonewall Democrats are being forced to close their doors Log Cabin Republicans is embarking on a renaissance of relevancy and impact.