Why Is Sarah Palin Associating with the For-Profit Tea Party Nation?

The tea party movement has matured enough that it has formed offshoots. Different tea party leaders had one set of ideas in this town, state, and even the country, and another set of tea party leaders had another set of ideas. Some groups are focusing on grooming candidates. Some are focusing on exposing corruption. And, with time, things are bound to change even more. The movement is young. It is still evolving.

Unfortunately, some of the players seem self-interested rather than country-interested. A good libertarian would say self-interest is country-interest. And I might agree ... to a point. However, the tea party movement generally has not been a for-profit venture most places until now with the upcoming Tea Party Nation Convention in Tennessee, and many local and national organizers and local grassroots activists are distancing themselves from this movement.

Nashville-based tea party activist Kevin Smith explains why they might want to distance themselves:

The following Monday, Judson went on air for a radio interview with Ralph Bristol, the talk radio host slotted before DelGiorno in the schedule. Bristol asked Judson about the donation box on the website; I assume in order to help boost donations. If people knew how the money was being used, they would be more likely to contribute. The host also asked in a leading manner, This is set up as a non-profit, of course. Judson’s answer was that he’d decided to set it up as a for-profit corporation, and that the majority of the donations would be for “paying our web designer.” I didn’t find out about this train wreck of an interview until the following Wednesday night, but this certainly explained why donations slowed to a trickle on Monday. For-profit, are you kidding me?!

This was not what our group planned, and in talking with other members of the leadership, this is not what we wanted to happen. Sure enough, the filing was effective for the for-profit Tea Party Nation Corporation on April 21, 2009, the day after Judson’s interview with Ralph Bristol, and Judson filed the papers such that he was the sole owner of Tea Party Nation.

By the time I found out, it was a done deal. I pleaded with Judson to change this. He agreed to hear concerns but made clear that he was now the owner of Tea Party Nation. He would be making the decisions. Judson’s asinine reasoning for the for-profit status was that Obama would do away with non-profits in 2009 or 2010. (I’m not sure where he conjured that idea, but even if it were true, it would still have been in our best interest and in the best interest of the movement for our group to have been formed as a non-profit. To my understanding, it was not at all legal to solicit and accept donations as a for-profit corporation.) He wrote, “The founders of facebook [sic] not only use their website to support the causes they believe in, they use the wealth they have created to do the same. We need to even the playing field.” However, Tea Party Nation and Facebook are two completely different entities -- at least they should be, given that one of the two organizations received its start-up capital from middle-class donors who believed they were contributing to a movement and its labor from volunteers believing they were donating their time to an effort to restore the Republic.

A for-profit tea party group? Why? To what end? There are downsides. Paying taxes on money that could be spent for activist purposes makes no sense. The lack of transparency in a for-profit group causes donors to be concerned, too, and would seem to be an inhibition to growth. There is much more at the link. I recommend that you read Mr. Smith's entire account.

When I started fishing around last week, talking to different tea party organizers (some who had split from others, even), the response was universal. First, no one wanted to talk on the record for fear of enraging the Palinistas. Second, no one had good things to say about Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation, if they knew him at all.

One source told me: "I think [fill-in-the-blank] person is involved." I'd contact that person, who would deny involvement and then give me another name. The cycle continued. I talked to people in Nashville. I talked to people associated with grassroots training. No one could say a good word about Judson's outfit. And no one wanted to say anything on the record.

Glenn Reynolds, a Tennessee resident, says, "Well, I had planned to cover the Tea Party convention in Nashville next month for PJTV, but nobody’s responded to my emails, and now I hear it’ll be closed to the press. Oh, well. People want to know what I think about this event; so far, not that much. We’ll see." Not exactly a ringing endorsement from a local guy and tea party champion.

Many sources are worried about Sarah Palin attaching herself to a disrespected tea party group. They also are worried about saying such a thing out loud.

A couple days ago, Erick Erickson said what many people were thinking:

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.

I am led to believe a number of the sponsors who lent their names early on have grown wary of the event. That lines up with what I am hearing.

The tea party movement was always about the unorganized masses of concerned, passionate Americans uniting together with a common voice to protest the direction of the country. From that passion, others have sought to make money off the tea party movement. Some have done it for good. Many have not. And more and more we are seeing some people rise up to claim the mantle of “leader” of the tea party movement. Many of us who have been around for a while just want to know who the heck these so called leaders are.

I have a couple of concerns. By attaching herself to this for-profit outfit, Sarah Palin undermines her standing with her very constituents. Many tea party folks are shaking their heads after being the same people to hold up signs supporting Palin. Why not donate time at the Tax Day Tea Party? Why associate with a guy with questionable tea party cred?

And these questions beg a bigger question: Who is giving Sarah Palin advice on these matters? Certainly, it does not seem that people tied into the grassroots organizations are being sought for advice.

Sarah Palin said on Bill O'Reilly's show, regarding this engagement, that controversy seems to swirl around her. Indeed, it does. She also said that she wouldn't be making money from the engagement, a sum rumored to be $125,000, but that the money would go to (presumably) her PAC and would help fund conservative candidates. That's all to the good. Still, I can't help but imagine that participating in the Tax Day Tea Party being planned in D.C. on April 15 or some other non-profit event around the country would have been more in the keeping with the spirit of the movement.

A couple sources, again off the record, reported that the Tea Party Nation organizers will probably go deeply in debt because of event costs and the speaking fee. The $500+ price tag to attend such an event could put off the very people who might be interested in smaller government, cutting taxes, and sending a message to an elite, out-of-touch government. The price tag alone seems out of touch.

On the other hand, channeling activist money into PACs to support candidates that reflect tea party values is not a bad thing. And it could be a positive outcome from this event.

Finally, the Tennessee event was chosen, it would seem, in lieu of an older school event like CPAC. The rationale for avoiding CPAC was the D.C. insiderish ways of the founder David Keene. The only problem with that thinking is that few CPAC attendees even know David Keene, and while he's associated with the American Conservative Union, he hardly represents CPAC. Thousands of people will be there -- most have participated in the tea party events and love Sarah Palin. It will be a gathering of conservatives from around the country and would be a rocking first outreach to conservative activists -- especially young conservative activists, CPAC's main constituency. Rush Limbaugh spoke there last year to great success. CPAC has always been newsmaking one way or another.

Still and all, the activist groups are bound to change and be changed by the energy and new people involved in the tea party movement. So things will change again. And where Sarah Palin goes, a new path gets blazed. Maybe this Tea Party Nation shindig will be a new model for fueling fledgling conservative movements. Certainly many of the people attending will not know  the machinations behind the scenes. They will simply enjoy hearing brave conservatives like Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin speak.

In the meantime, many activists are concerned that those claiming to represent the tea party movement will damage its integrity. They also worry for the harm Sarah Palin's future might absorb by being associated with a less-than-reputable representative of the movement.