Does Ginni Thomas Matter?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 7 2011 9:16 AM

Does Ginni Thomas Matter?

I went on MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on Friday to talk about Virginia "Ginni" Thomas's new-new career as a Republican consultant and "ambassador to the Tea Party." Video's below; I will probably discuss this on another show today. My conclusion wasn't the most sensational one, but I'm convinced it's true. The real story of Ginni Thomas is that, as far as the Tea Party movement is concerned, she's a hanger-on. If she's creating conflict of interest issues for her husband, she's doing it needlessly.

Let's take Liberty Central, the organization Thomas founded with probably the most fanfare of any Tea Party group. (Admittedly, most of the fanfare was of the "oh lord-what-is-she-doing) variety. It's a 501(c)4, so it can raise money to elect Republicans. Let's compare its spending power to that of other notable conservative groups.

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- The American Future Fund spent $9.6 million.
- The Club for Growth spent $8.2 million.
- The Tea Party Express spent $2.8 million.
- George Pataki's generally ignored Revere America spent $2.6 million.
- Americans for Prosperity spent $1.3 million.

On and on down the list. Notice anything? Liberty Central didn't actually do anything . Voters did not see ads paid for by Ginni Thomas's rolodex. Honestly, the only impact Liberty Central displayed during the election was the presence of some Liberty Central foam Statue of Liberty crowns at Tea Party rallies where the group showed up.

So does Liberty Central apply public pressure through online organizing? (Remember, Thomas is now an independent consultant, but her Tea Party reputation is staked on Liberty Central.) Not in a noticeable way. Thomas claims that 250,000 people now support the group in some way, but compare its activity to Americans for Prosperity -- which comes in for the "ooh! scary!" treatment in the LA Times today -- and you're comparing nothing to something. A petition to support the new GOP House, launched when it was sworn in, has drawn... 27 signatures .

I guess it's possible that Thomas's influence runs so deep that it's not visible in any way nor acknowledged by any of the members of Congress she's contacted. (The telling anecdote in Politico's story on this is that some congressmen contacted by Thomas do not know who she is and have not responded.) But what if she's not much of a conspirator? What if she's more of a dilettante? 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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