Meet the Tea Party Grassroots, Same As the Old Grassroots

| Mon Apr. 28, 2014 10:56 AM EDT

"Grassroots" fundraising in the conservative world has long been full of shady operators who raise lots of money but don't actually spend much of it on actual political activities. The tea party, of course, was supposed to be different. It was a real grassroots rebellion. Honest. This time was going to be different as the tea partiers gave the Washington establishment hell.

Except, um, not so much. The Washington Post reports that if the tea party movement was ever truly a grassroots crusade in the first place (a subject on which you should retain a healthy skepticism), it rather quickly morphed into the usual opportunity to rake in big bucks for the folks at the top:

Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates, according to the analysis, which was based on campaign finance data provided by the Sunlight Foundation....Three well-known groups — the Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express and the Madison Project — have spent 5 percent or less of their money directly on election-related activity during this election cycle....On average, super PACs had spent 64 percent of their funds on directly helping candidates by roughly this stage in the 2012 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data.

....The donation page on the Web site of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund pleads with potential donors to “make the most generous contribution possible” to help fund “the ads, the get-out-the-vote campaigns, the research and the volunteer training sessions we need to take the fight to the big-spending incumbents!”....But of the $7.4 million that the Georgia-based group’s super PAC has spent since the beginning of 2013, just $184,505 has gone to boost candidates, The Post found.

....[Jenny Beth] Martin, the super PAC’s chairwoman, oversees all its expenditures, according to Broughton, meaning she sets her own $15,000 monthly fee for strategic consulting — payments that have totaled $120,000 since July. She also draws a salary as president of the Tea Party Patriots’ nonprofit arm — getting more than $272,000 in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the group’s most recent tax filing.

Her twin salaries put her on track to make more than $450,000 this year, a dramatic change in lifestyle for the tea party activist, who had filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and then cleaned homes for a period of time to bring in extra money....Martin’s cousin, Kevin Mooneyhan, is also on the payroll as a strategic consultant.

I guess you might as well take the money while the taking is good. But no worries. When the tea party schtick finally goes south, there are always gold coins and reverse mortgages to sell to credulous retirees.

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