comments_image Comments

Tea Party Consultants, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain Fleecing Right's Small Donors

While their grassroots fume at Obama, their 'leaders' are pocketing their money.

On July 20, hours after the horrific shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama sent an email to supporters with the subject line "OUTRAGEOUS: Media Tries to Blame Tea Party for Colorado Shooting."

"We can't let the media get away with their attempts to smear the tea party," the email read, with a link to a story claiming ABC News "tried to falsely blame the tea party for the Colorado massacre." (What actually happened is that in the scramble to ID the killer, ABC briefly noted it had found a profile of a man on a Tea Party website with the same name as the shooter and in the same city.) "Please help us fight back by supporting the most prominent tea party candidate in America right now -- conservative Republican Ted Cruz. CLICK HERE to CONTRIBUTE."

This brazen effort to raise money off of the Colorado shooting tragedy, taken alone, is disturbing. Even the Cruz campaign has called it "inappropriate." But what makes this fundraising appeal from the Tea Party Express-spinoff "Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama" even more egregious is that the dollars raised will disproportionately flow into the pockets of the group's leaders.

Latching on to Tea Party Energy

In 2009, as groups around the country were organizing what they called "tea parties" on tax day to protest government spending, Joe Wierzbicki, a senior associate at the right-wing political consulting firm Russo Marsh & Associates, developed a proposal for a "Tea Party Express" to latch onto the movement's energy.

His plan featured a "proper luxury coach wrapped in a 'tea party' graphical design" that would make stops in dozens of cities represented by vulnerable Democrats in Congress. Under the guidance of Wierzbicki and Russo Marsh's Sal Russo, the Tea Party Express soon developed into a major financial supporter of far-right candidates and a visible presence in the movement.

Wierzbicki, Sal Marsh, and their consulting firm Russo Marsh were among an array of Republican apparatchiks and deep-pocketed ideological interests to capitalize on the Tea Party's grassroots energy and help direct it towards propping up big business and the Republican establishment. But what makes Wierzbicki and Russo Marsh unique is the degree to which they capitalized on the Tea Party energy for personal financial gain.

In the runup to the 2010 midterms, a majority of the funds raised by Tea Party Express went to Marsh and his company for consulting fees and to pay for advertising and other expenses. "Political action committees must spend money to make money, typically hiring staff members from the organizers who created the group," the New York Times wrote at the time. "But it is less common for them to funnel most of their outside spending through a vendor controlled by a committee executive, as Mr. Russo has done."

The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama (CDBO) formed in 2011 and appears to be operating from the same playbook, but with Wierzbicki at the helm. As the name suggests, CDBO's claimed purpose is to defeat President Obama, but their campaign activities thus far have largely focused on recall battles in Wisconsin. And their spending has disproportionately benefitted Wierzbicki and Russo Marsh.

73% of Funds Raised Go to CDBO Leaders, Consulting Firm

CDBO, a Political Action Committee (PAC) registered with the FEC, reports that it has raised $1,242,360 in the first half of 2012, much of it from small donors giving $50 or $100. (It has spent about the same amount during that period, $1,216,665.) CDBO seems to raise these funds through a steady stream of broad-based fundraising appeals like email blasts and online ads, which warn people of the dangers of a second term for President Obama, and suggest the best way to make Obama a one-term president is to donate to CDBO.