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Small Gov’t, Big Salary: Tea Party Groups Using Paltry 5% of Funds They Raise on Candidates

Tea Party Patriots

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An article in last weekend’s Washington Post showed that while the Tea Party Patriots have been amassing large donations on behalf of candidates who share their ‘vision’ of smaller government, they have actually spent very little money on the candidates’ campaigns. Instead, much of the money has been used to pay D.C. consultants and employ family members.  

One of the group’s most publicized campaigns, the Kentucky Senate primary where Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin is seeking to unseat incumbent Mitch McConnell, is a perfect example of their ‘wool over the eyes’ fundraising.  They have gathered donations from across the nation and promised to “put their money where their mouth is,” but they have spent only $56,000 on behalf of Bevin.  The lack of action has left many of the group’s primary hopefuls exposed against candidates receiving funds from mainstream PAC’s.  

The situation shows the artificial nature of the Tea Party which, since its inception, has posed as the voice of the common man while allowing its agenda to be controlled by billionaire donors such as the Koch Brothers.  From the article, written by Matea Gold:

A Washington Post analysis found that some of the top national tea party groups engaged in this year’s midterm elections have put just a tiny fraction of their money directly into boosting the candidates they’ve endorsed.

The practice is not unusual in the freewheeling world of big-money political groups, but it runs counter to the ethos of the tea party movement, which sprouted five years ago amid anger on the right over wasteful government spending. And it contrasts with the urgent appeals tea party groups have made to their base of small donors, many of whom repeatedly contribute after being promised that their money will help elect conservative politicians.

Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates, according to the analysis, which was based on campaign finance data provided by the Sunlight Foundation.

The dearth of election spending has left many favored tea party candidates exposed before a series of pivotal GOP primaries next month in North Carolina, Nebraska, Idaho and Kentucky.

Roughly half of the money — nearly $18 million — has gone to pay for fundraising and direct mail, largely provided by Washington-area firms. Meanwhile, tea party leaders and their family members have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees, while their groups have doled out large sums for airfare, a retirement plan and even interior decorating.

The revelations highlight a growing Campaign Industrial Complex and donations that rarely go where they are supposed to. The Washington Post found that three groups — the Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express and the Madison Project — have spent less than five percent of their war chest during this election cycle.  According to Federal Election Commission data, at this point in the 2012 election Super PAC’s had spent 64 percent of their funds directly helping candidates.  

Unlike a nonprofit or corporation, these groups have no board to answer to. A complete lack of regulation creates a scenario ripe for abuse.  Tony Herman, former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission, told the Washington Post, “There’s a big loophole.  It really is sort of the wild, wild West.”

The practice has left the Tea Party doing exactly what they were allegedly formed to stop: special interest control of the national political conversation at the expense of the voters.  But wasteful spending and donation hoarding appear to be the norm for Tea Party leaders who somehow gain the public trust by promising the exact opposite of what they are delivering:

The donation page on the Web site of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund pleads with potential donors to “make the most generous contribution possible” to help fund “the ads, the get-out-the-vote campaigns, the research and the volunteer training sessions we need to take the fight to the big-spending incumbents!”

Such appeals have helped the groups raise millions of dollars through thousands of small donations.
“I’m just so disappointed with the Republican Party and was hoping the tea party can have some influence,” said Adele Ward, an 81-year-old resident of Kerrville, Tex., who wrote a check for $1,000 to the Tea Party Patriots at the end of March. “I was certainly hoping it was to further their agenda and to support the candidates.”

ut of the $7.4 million that the Georgia-based group’s super PAC has spent since the beginning of 2013, just $184,505 has gone to boost candidates, The Post found. Three-quarters of the spending by the Citizens Fund — $5.5 million — has been devoted to fundraising and direct mail.

Tea Party Patriots spokesman Kevin Broughton said the super PAC, which formed in January 2013, has had to spend time “marshaling resources” and plans to be more active in races throughout the summer and fall.

Martin, the super PAC’s chairwoman, oversees all its expenditures, according to Broughton, meaning she sets her own $15,000 monthly fee for strategic consulting — payments that have totaled $120,000 since July.

She also draws a salary as president of the Tea Party Patriots’ nonprofit arm — getting more than $272,000 in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the group’s most recent tax filing.
Her twin salaries put her on track to make more than $450,000 this year, a dramatic change in lifestyle for the tea party activist, who had filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and then cleaned homes for a period of time to bring in extra money.

The irony is somehow lost on many donors who wish simply to see extreme conservatives elected.  Of course, viewing this outcome as ironic or somehow revealing pre-supposes that you bought into the view of the Tea Party as a “grassroots” political movement to begin with. When understood as an astroturf plot from day one, corruption doesn’t come as much of a surprise.


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