Remember Lloyd Marcus, the Black guy with the cowboy hat who sang an ode to Sarah Palin after the campaign and who was just so … darned … weird? Well turns out he’s not just some failed, makeshift Charlie Pride. He’s part of a shadowy — okay, not that shadowy, since they’re pretty open about it — network of sophisticated Republican operatives and lobbyists who even as we speak, are busy coopting the poor, hapless Tea Party movement (when the white supremacists, aren’t infiltrating it first.)
Now of course, it’s hard to believe that the teabaggers are only just noticing that whatever their purpose was when they started out (whether they were leftovers from the Ron Paul movement or disappointed Palin voters or just bored senior citizens with a lot of steam to let off, they are now pretty much in existence to protest healthcare, help elect Republicans in 2010 and create an army of new adult education teachers dedicated to teaching grown men and women to spell:
But apparently, you can’t get much past these folks after all. I wonder what gave it away … could it have been all that free Fox News PR…?
Back to Marcus’ group — well, not “his” group, but the one he’s associated with. It’s called the “Our Country Deserves Better” PAC, and when they’re not doing bus tours moaning about how the country would be so much better off with Sarah Palin as president, they’re building astroturf groups designed to mimick and capitalize on the raw rage and incoherent populism tinged with Ron Paulite Libertarian stuff that is the “tea party movement.” And wouldn’t you know it, the teabaggers are actually starting to notice that some people see them as just another part of the Republican GOTV machine.
I wonder what tipped the off? Was it the fact that the bulk of the money they donated to the tea movement didn’t go to tea at all, but rather to expensive dinners and exorbitant fees for the lobbyists who bult the Tea Party Express? From TPM:
The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) — which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement — directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place.
Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB) spent around $1.33 million from July through November, according to FEC filings examined by TPMmuckraker. Of that sum, a total of $857,122 went to Sacramento-based GOP political consulting firm Russo, Marsh, and Associates, or people associated with it.
OCDB, which built the Tea Party Express, is essentially a Russo, Marsh creation, as we’ve detailed. The PAC’s site was registered in July 2008 by Sal Russo, the firm’s founder. That site also lists Russo as the PAC’s “chief strategist.” Tea Party Express fundraising emails, sent by OCDB and obtained by TPMmuckraker, come from another Russo, Marsh employee, Joe Wierzbicki.
… From July through November 2009, the firm received $832,403 from OCDB, according to the FEC records. An additional $8,500 went to Russo himself. And Wierzbicki took in $16,219.
Holy God and country! What would Patrick Henry think??? And then there were the fancy dinners. From Mother Jones, word that some in the teabagging movement prefer to have theirs with one pinky up:
Would a true Tea Party patriot drop nearly $1,600 in donor money for a small meal at a fancy steakhouse? Robin Stublen says no, and he’s mad as hell about the profligate expenditures of a GOP political organization that has glommed on to his grassroots movement. Stublen is the organizer of the Punta Gorda, Florida, Tea Party and a member of Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots organization that has no offices, no president, raises virtually no money, operates largely on volunteer efforts, and, most important, doesn’t endorse candidates. But unbeknownst to many, there’s another outfit claiming ownership of this conservative movement. It’s called the Tea Party Express, and it has dominated Fox News coverage over the past year with its multistate bus tours and political rallies.
Behind it is a well-established Republican political action committee that has raked in tons of money fundraising under the “Tea Party” banner—and it has also spent a lot of that money in a fashion unbecoming a supposedly grassroots insurrection. For instance, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, the PAC that created Tea Party Express dropped $1,597.29 over the summer for a meal for six at a tony Sacramento Chops restaurant, an expenditure that has Stublen seeing red.
“Six people averaged $266; that’s not grassroots. I kill bugs and cut grass for a living. I’m splurging when I spend $19 at Chili’s. Outback Steakhouse is reserved for Mother’s Day,” Stublen says.
For Stublen the pricey Chops tab is only the latest evidence that Tea Party Express is trying to capitalize on the movement for crass and self-serving political purposes—mainly as a fundraising machine for Republican causes. Starting in August, Tea Party Express organized two cross-country bus tours that bashed the Obama administration’s health reform and attacked members of Congress not deemed conservative enough. Fox News heavily promoted the first tour, even embedding a reporter to cover the trip.
The organization is planning a third tour for the end of March that will culminate in Washington, DC, on Tax Day, its purpose to target vulnerable Democrats and moderate Republicans in the lead-up to the midterm elections. These trips, which include rallies in cities and towns across the country and speeches by political candidates, have proven reliable fundraising vehicles. FEC filings show that Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB), the PAC that set up the Tea Party Express, raised $1.9 million this year, $600,000 more than it took in during the heated 2008 presidential election.
While Tea Party Express professes to be a driving force in the Tea Party movement, it was actually started by a California-based GOP political consulting firm, Russo Marsh & Rogers, which also set up OCDB. OCDB originally focused on attacking Barack Obama during the 2008 election, running ads assaulting the then-candidate for failing to put his hand over his heart during the pledge of allegiance, and digging up footage of one of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s heated sermons. Many of OCDB’s principals are also connected to Move America Forward, a conservative group that ran PR campaigns and bus tours in support of the Iraq War during the Bush administration. During this election cycle, OCDB has spent $123,000 on an independent expenditure campaign bashing Senate majority leader Harry Reid, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The battle has been brewing for months, and has included tea partieres switching sides between the “patriots” and the “TPExpressers” and fights over who owns the email databases, which in campaign world, are worth their weight in gold, since they contain the identifying information for literally thousands, or tens of thousands, of potential donors, volunteers and voters. The Washington Independent has been following the bickering for months, including the fact that some TPP types worry that the more outrageous Obama bashing and over the top lingo coming out of the TPE crowd is making them all look bad, and could jeopardize TPP’s 501C4 status, to which our cowboy hat-wearing friend Marcus, interviewed by the Independent in October, said, “pass the brie!” …
The self-described grassroots activists in Tea Party Patriots and the American Liberty Alliance see the Tea Party Express as a sham organization, using the political heft of the movement to push a bland, partisan Republican agenda. Privately and publicly, they accuse the Tea Party Express of being an “astroturf” outfit, a scheme for Republican strategists and candidates to take advantage of a movement that was chugging along fine without them.
“Right now,” said Tea Party Patriots national organizer Jenny Beth Martin, “we can’t be involved with PACs. We want to make sure the organizations we align with are in line with our core values–that they’re not just supporting one party over the other. There could be a point to the Tea Party Express, but I don’t think its goal is the best goal.”
Other Tea Party organizations were less diplomatic. Last week, Houston and Austin Tea Party organizers had argued with Tea Party Express organizers about the Express’s upcoming tour, somewhat controversially titled “Countdown to Judgment Day.” The local organizers didn’t want the Express to come; the Express put their cities on the map anyway. In response, Houston Tea Party organizer Josh Parker released a blistering statement declaring that his group did “not promote, support, or endorse the activities of the ‘Our Country Deserves Better’ PAC and its ‘Tea Party Express’ bus tour,” and that “a growing number of Tea Party organizers in the country are disclaiming any association with TPE.” A Houston organizer, Judy Holloway, grumbled, “I call it the astro-turf express.”
One complaint that Tea Party activists have about Our Country Deserves Better PAC is the amount of money–raised in email appeals that ask Tea Party attendees to keep the bus running. According to the PAC’s FEC filings, it has paid out $106,455.65 this year to Russo, Marsh & Associates, a Republican consulting firm. Sal Russo, that firm’s principal, is the chief strategist for Our Country Deserves Better PAC and Move America Forward, the political group that shares much of OCDB’s leadership. Howard Kaloogian, a former Republican assemblyman in California, is also a leader in both groups. And in 2008, Our Country Deserves Better PAC ran a more explicitly partisan campaign, a nationwide Stop Obama Tour. According to Lloyd Marcus, an African-American singer who traveled with both that tour and the Tea Party Express–and appeared in a November 2008 ad the group made to thank Sarah Palin for her 2008 vice presidential campaign–the group is simply being practical. The attacks from Tea Party activists were the sort of thing that “happens anywhere that there are human beings involved.”
Perhaps he could write a song about it!
So can the “real” tea partiers prevent their movement from being coopted for the purposes of the GOP? In a word: nope. From Raw Story:
A Libertarian political consultant interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow agrees that in many places the tea partiers’ struggle against being coopted is already “a lost cause.”
“In some places it’s being fought out,” Stephen Gordon told Maddow on Tuesday. “In some places it’s always been a lost cause. … People are trying to do the right thing, but GOP organizations and campaigns are effectively taking over the Tea Party movement in some places in the country.”