How the Texas Tea Party Became Nothing More Than an Effort to Take People’s Money

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
March 5 2014 2:20 PM

Texas Buck-rakers

How the Texas Tea Party became nothing more than an effort to take people’s money.

(Continued from Page 1)

Stockman was a uniquely incompetent scammer, but he didn’t have the field to himself. The danger of “scoreboard” politics, of choosing big targets, is that you’ll likely lose. The upside is that you’ll definitely raise money. The Stockman race was a cruder, less ethical version of the Tea Party Leadership Fund’s promise to “Defeat Boehner.” Sure, the speaker of the House is even safer than Cornyn, but the Tea Party Leadership Fund has raised millions and kicked back most of it to consultants.

And the “Defeat Boehner” campaign is mirrored by FreedomWorks, the Washington-based Tea Party group that’s running its own “Fire the Speaker” campaign. The first time most national reporters heard of the Pierson-Sessions race was when FreedomWorks brought her to Washington, and FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe called her “one of the best activists in Texas.”

According to the Federal Election Commission’s records of independent expenditure, FreedomWorks spent no money on Pierson’s race. In the last week, the Conservative Campaign Committee spent around $16,000. The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund spent around $5,000, having endorsed Pierson officially on Monday—the day before the primary. But FreedomWorks spent elsewhere. I asked what the group had done in Texas’s primaries and got no response.

Advertisement

If you’d been following FreedomWorks’s claims about Texas, this didn’t make much sense. The group had bet heavily on Cruz’s 2012 primary campaign, sending its then-director of campaigns, Brendan Steinhauser, down to Texas to organize events.

In July 2012, FreedomWorks brought 14,000 conservative activists to Dallas for a “FreePAC” rally in support of Cruz. In June, after former Obama campaign strategists started a voter registration program called Battleground Texas, FreedomWorks announced an agenda named for the flag of the Battle of Gonzales: “Come and Take It.” Politico obtained the full plan, which asked for $7.95 million to blanket Texas in ads and full-time canvassers.

The number was eye-popping—and fanciful. A few months after the “Come and Take It” announcement, FreedomWorks revealed that it had raised $40 million in 2012. BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray reported that less than $10 million had come in through 2013. FreedomWorks didn’t deny this. Its spokeswoman cautioned that the group worked on a two-year fundraising cycle.

But nothing suggested, then or now, that “Come and Take It” had evolved beyond a pitch to possible donors. It certainly couldn’t save Katrina Pierson. And it couldn’t tap Steinhauser, the organizer who’d worked in Texas on the Cruz project. In July, he was hired to run Cornyn’s re-election bid. Texas reporters matter-of-factly mentioned Steinhauser’s 2012 work. FreedomWorks took the unusual step of demanding a correction, telling the press that “as a 501 (c3) and (c4) employee, Brendan Steinhauser was not involved in the decision to endorse Ted Cruz early in the Texas Republican primary.”

That was a pointless distraction. Cornyn’s campaign wasn’t hurt in the slightest. His victory, and Sessions’ victory, will end up convincing plenty of reporters that the GOP establishment has finally conquered the right. The outside groups that overpromised in Texas will raise money by promising to take better scalps in other races. The racket only stops when the checks stop.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.