Mike Pence declines invitation to CPAC as event’s leader comes under fire

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(WASHINGTON) — Former Vice President Mike Pence has declined an invitation to the Conservative Political Action Conference, sources told ABC News.

The decision by Pence, who is debating a 2024 presidential run, comes as other notable figures are absent from this year’s lineup.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spoke at CPAC last year, has two events scheduled in Texas as CPAC gets underway in Maryland.

A spokesperson for CPAC told ABC News that neither Pence nor DeSantis are currently slated to attend.

DeSantis’ spokesperson did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment. A spokesperson for Pence declined to comment.

Pence did not attend the event in 2022 and declined an invitation in 2021. This year’s absences come as the chairman of CPAC — which bills itself as the “largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world” — is embroiled in a sexual assault scandal.

Earlier this year, a staffer for one-time Senate candidate Herschel Walker alleged that Matt Schlapp, the chairman of CPAC, “groped” and “fondled” his crotch while he was driving Schlapp back from a bar in Atlanta, according to a report from The Daily Beast. The staffer then filed a lawsuit against Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, seeking $9.4 million for sexual battery and defamation, according to a report.

A statement from Schlapp’s attorney at the time said the complaint is “false” and the “Schlapps and their legal team are assessing counter lawsuit options.”

But some say the allegations have “exacerbated” issues for the organization.

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that CPAC is not attracting the big names that it once did. There’s a feeling within the Republican Party that CPAC has long abandoned the traditional values that it once stood for,” one GOP operative said. “The allegations against Matt Schlapp for allegedly ‘pummeling’ a man’s ‘junk’ against his will have only exacerbated these issues and are likely to contribute to further decline by the organization.”

Still, the event had drawn speakers such as former President Donald Trump and ambassador Nikki Haley, both of whom have declared their candidacy for 2024.

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who recently called for a “national divorce” between Republican and Democratic states, is also scheduled to speak.

Kari Lake, the Trump-backed candidate who lost her bid for governor in Arizona and pushed false claims of election fraud, will be the featured speaker for Friday night’s Reagan dinner.

The CPAC announcement praised her as “a rare leader who captured the hearts of conservatives with her honest, bold message including closing the Arizona border and exposing widespread election fraud.”

“CPAC is a great place for conservatives to come together, Lake said in a video posted on Twitter by Schlapp last week.

The event is scheduled to run from March 1-4.

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