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Tea Party Inc.: The Big Money and Powerful Elites Behind the Right Wing's Latest Uprising

The Tea Parties are billed as a people's movement. But they wouldn't exist without the help of deep-pocketed billionaires.

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More flamboyant is Tea Party Express, another name for Our Country Deserves Better, an anti-Obama PAC founded by Howard Kaloogian, the California attorney who orchestrated the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. The group has already weathered controversy -- its spokesperson, radio talk-show host Mark Williams, was forced to exit the organization in July after authoring a demeaning satire of NAACP president Ben Jealous. But Tea Party Express has nevertheless raised $6.6 million this election, according to recent FEC data, making it, in the estimation of the New York Times , "the single biggest independent supporter of Tea Party candidates." And the group has racked up primary victories for Tea Party insurgencies such as Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, who benefited from $250,000 in Tea Party Express ad buys; Joe Miller in Alaska, who beat incumbent Lisa Murkowski with the aid of $550,000 from the group; and Angle, who has enjoyed nearly $1 million in "independent expenditure" advertising by the group, according to FEC filings.

"Sharron Angle, in my opinion, wouldn't have won [the Republican primary] without the Tea Party Express," California Republican consultant and Tea Party organizer Eric Odom told participants in this year's RightOnline conference.

Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition, which seeks to unite the Tea Party and the religious right, is provides a unique service to Tea Party Inc.: delivery of religious-right voters to its candidates. On September 11, Reed brought together a few hundred activists for a strategy briefing at Washington, D.C.'s Mayflower Hotel. The event featured speakers from the GOP's glory days, from Karl Rove to Newt Gingrich.There Reed instructed activists on how to "move the needle" when the polls are against you.

"We're building databases of faith-based and fiscal conservatives in every key congressional race, U.S. Senate race or governor's race, and a lot of targeted state legislative races," Reed explained. "Those voters are going to be contacted an average of seven times.We're gonna mail ‘em, we're gonna phone ‘em, if we have an e-mail, we're gonna e-mail ‘em, if we have a cell phone number, we're gonna text-message them. And at the end, we're gonna knock on their door."

Reed's big announcement of his new Faith & Freedom Coalition took place in August 2009, at an Atlanta rally against health-care reform convened by Americans for Prosperity, the organization fronted by his old business partner, Tim Phillips. FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey delivered the keynote address, and Fox News contributor Herman Cain made the business case against health-care reform.

Phillips couldn't make it to Atlanta that day. He was stuck in Pittsburgh, at his RightOnline conference, rubbing elbows with the stars of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

*UPDATE: January 31, 2011 - Since our publication of this story in October 2010, the "Restoring Honor" page of GlennBeck.com and the Web site of the 9/12 Project Beck founded no longer feature links to Tea Party Express or Tea Party Patriots.

Click here for an Illustrated Guide to Tea Party, Inc.

For more of AlterNet's reporting on the Tea Party movement, check out our new anthology, Dangerous Brew: Exposing the Tea Party's Agenda to Take Over America, edited by Don Hazen and Adele M. Stan.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.