The Tea Party movement, as originally envisioned, was a group of people who were united by their common belief that less government was better government, that individual liberties should not be infringed by the government, and perhaps above all, that government should be accountable to the people, not the other way around. Laudable principles all, as far as they go.
While many people who got involved in this movement were conservative Republicans or libertarians, many were non-partisan, and some were even Democrats; and all of them felt a strong sense of disenfranchisement by the government, which probably had been brought to a boiling point by the radical Obama agenda as manifested over the past year.
As with a lot of populist movements (or just about anything, actually), however, there always seem to be people who are going to try to twist it for their own ends and profit.
Now, we are learning that a for-profit group calling itself the "Tea Party Nation," whose claim to fame seems to be that it's organized a convention featuring conservative hero Sarah Palin, is coming under intense scrutiny for its questionable organizational issues and attempts to appropriate the "Tea Party" moniker to make a buck.
Politico has an exposé on the Tea Party Nation and its man behind the scenes. The lede to the Politico story begins:
The convention is being held at a fancy resort, features $550 ticket prices, a steak and lobster dinner and a guest speaker with a $100,000 speaking fee. It’s sponsored by a for-profit company with a mysterious wealthy benefactor, and its organizers, who have been accused of secrecy and corruption, have threatened lawsuits against dissenters and clamped down on news coverage.
Sounds like just the kind of thing that tea party activists, whose populist outrage is directed at the Washington and Wall Street establishments, would be up in arms over.
Except it’s a tea party convention.
Already, you know there's a problem. The article goes on to explain the problems the group is having with its marquee convention that it planned for this weekend in Nashville, with sponsors pulling out, questions being raised about the $100,000 speaker's fee being charged by Palin, and the possibility that some tea party activists will gather outside the convention to protest the convention that is supposed to be the big come-together meeting for all such groups. Sound fishy?
Of the convention leader, Politico said:
It was the brainchild of Judson Phillips, a Tennessee lawyer who — as first reported by POLITICO — is running the event through a for-profit Tennessee corporation he controls called Tea Party Nation. Most political conventions are conducted by nonprofits. Yet Phillips originally intended to turn a profit from the endeavor, with the cash going to fund a so-called 527 group that would air ads praising conservative candidates or criticizing their opponents.
Moreover, as the story goes on to indicate, several of the convention organizers were eventually revealed to have interests in a private business venture that they sought to pitch to Sarah Palin. Really, you need to read the whole story. More background here.
Even conservative super-blogger Erick Erickson of Redstate.com has raised the alarm, saying:
I think the tea party movement has largely descended into ego and quest for purpose for individuals at the expense of what the tea party movement started out to be.
That’s not to say it is in every case. I have much good to say about groups like Tea Party Patriots, but I think this national tea party convention smells scammy.
Let me be blunt: charging people $500.00 plus the costs of travel and lodging to go to a “National Tea Party Convention” run by a for profit group no one has ever heard of sounds as credible as an email from Nigeria promising me a million bucks if I fork over my bank account number.
So, has anyone noticed by now that this is the primary 'Tea Party' group that is promoting conservative candidate for U.S. Senate Patrick Hughes? Any politician ought to be wary of claiming the endorsement of this group, which Politico stated "is not considered a leading group in the tea party movement." Pat, however, can't afford to be picky, considering he badly trails front-runner Mark Kirk in polling, fundraising and name ID (oh, yeah, and not to mention experience).
Interestingly, Eagle Forum, owned by rabid Pat Hughes supporter and pro-lifer Phyllis Schlafly, is listed as a "strategic partner" of Tea Party Nation, so maybe we should not be surprised that Pat received this group's endorsement. I bet there are more dots there to be connected if anyone cared to look.
But even on this one, Pat might want to consider taking a pass before he goes down with his supporters. Based on the scant chances of the Tea Party Nation convention to actually turn a profit, as reported by Politico, they may not have any money to throw Pat Hughes' way anyway.