Tea Party Consultants, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain Fleecing Right's Small Donors
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A recent CDBO telethon fundraiser featured guests telling viewers that the president plans to "build some kind of cult...in the public schools" and another saying that "what Obama may do next may prove fatal to the Republic" and that "to say that all you can do...is go and cast your vote is a dereliction of duty. What people need to do is pick up the phone and donate to your PAC." During the Wisconsin recall, CDBO raised money for its Wisconsin ads by asking people to "support Scott Walker, beat back Obama's minions and DEFEAT the RECALL."
In the post- Citizens United World, where Sheldon Adelson makes $20 million dollar donations to Super PACs, and Koch donor summit attendees pledge millions towards election spending, CDBO's small-dollar fundraising may seem quaint. And in contrast with the deep-pocketed donors whose political spending is likely intended to buy influence and curry favor with elected officials, it seems believable that the individuals who make $50 or $100 donations to CDBO are genuinely spooked by CDBO's anti-Obama fear mongering and send money to help the cause.
Unfortunately, it looks like these Tea Party donors are getting played. The majority (seventy-three percent) of the funds raised by CDBO in the first half of 2012 has gone to CDBO Executive Director Joe Wierzbicki, his consulting firm Russo Marsh, and CDBO Vice-President Ryan Gill. More than thirty-three percent of the dollars CDBO raised from the Tea Party faithful has gone into the pockets of Wierzbicki and Gill, largely for "fundraising commissions" or "consulting fees."
"DEFEAT the RECALL" and "win this one for 'The Gipper'"
Some of the first ads CDBO ran after forming in 2011 aired in Wisconsin to support Governor Scott Walker during protests over his plans to limit public sector collective bargaining. The group ran additional ads that summer to support Republican senators facing recall, praising Walker and the Republican senators for providing "the adult leadership Wisconsin needs to restore fiscal responsibility" and criticizing "Barack Obama's political allies" for "trying to recall the Republican senators" and ending with the message, "tell Barack Obama and his liberal hacks we reject their liberal intervention." CDBO Chairperson Lloyd Marcus boasted that the group spent $100,000 on their summer recall campaign.
The following spring, CDBO ran at least four ads on Wisconsin television to support Governor Walker in the runup to his June 5 recall election. The first two ads praised Walker and criticized Obama for "fiddling in Madison," but as the election drew near, the ads focused more exclusively on supporting Walker. One ad included CDBO President Mary Pearson (who lives in California) telling viewers "Governor Walker's reforms are working here in Wisconsin." Another ad featured Ronald Reagan's son Michael, who claimed that Walker is "getting people back to work in Wisconsin" and telling viewers to "win this one for 'The Gipper.'"
Funds Raised to Support Walker, but also Enrich CDBO Leaders
Because some of the ads attacked President Obama, a federal candidate, CDBO reported the expenditures to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Their filings for April and May of 2012 showed the group spending $59,748 on TV ads in Wisconsin, much of which went to Wierzbicki's consulting firm Russo Marsh, as well as a reported debt of $74,406 to the firm for prior independent expenditures in Wisconsin. Last year, CDBO also reported to the FEC that it spent $205,518 on advertising in Wisconsin; around three-quarters of that total was spent in August 2011, near the time of Wisconsin's Senate recalls, and the other quarter was spent in late 2011, as activists began circulating petitions for Walker's recall. Sixty percent of the total amount spent in Wisconsin in 2011 ($123,596) went to Wierzbicki's Russo Marsh.