Tea Party, Meet Consultant. Now, Give Him All Your Money.

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 15 2011 9:01 AM

Tea Party, Meet Consultant. Now, Give Him All Your Money.

Don't miss Stephanie Mencimer's three-part series -- part two went up this morning -- on the financial life of Tea Party Patriots. The oldest national grassroots Tea Party group, formed in February 2009, TPP has succeeded for a simple reason: Its leaders rose up from nowhere and have figured out how to organize and talk to the media. Mencimer's details about TPP's fundraising and communications contracts are fascinating.

In August, TPP inked a contract with MDS Communications , an Arizona-based phone fundraising firm that counts as clients the Republican National Committee and most of the GOP's congressional campaign organizations. MDS even handled the telephone fundraising for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. The firm specializes in working with the GOP's evangelical foot soldiers, including the National Right to Life Committee, Concerned Women for America, and the Family Research Council. It has been heavily involved in anti-gay marriage activities, once donating its services to help raise more than $7 million for Arizona's Proposition 102, which created a state ban on gay marriage.

The MDS deal with TPP is anything but cheap. Documents filed with the Colorado secretary of state indicate that MDS will keep at least 70 percent of the money it raises—nearly $3 out of every $4. In 2005, California's attorney general released a report (PDF) showing that MDS was among a number of fundraising companies that returned less than 15 percent of what they raised to some of the charities they worked for. Out of more than $585,000 MDS pulled in for the Concerned Women for America, for instance, not a dime went back to the nonprofit group, according to the report.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Also, Tea Party Patriots' communications, which were once handled by the movement leaders themselves, are now piloted by the beltway firm Shirley & Bannister, which handles a lot of social conservative organizations, like the CPAC boycotting American Principles Project. Key bit:

The money TPP has raised is significant, and the hiring of professional fundraisers should only help matters. According to a financial statement filed with the Colorado secretary of state , TPP raised $538,009 between June 1, 2009, and May 31, 2010. It would later receive the $1 million donation. Given the amount of cash that has sloshed through TPP's coffers in the past two years, much of it from individual grassroots donors, many activists have begun to wonder how it's been spent by an organization that doesn't even have an office.

TPP's Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler travel constantly. That's at least one place that the money's going. The results are things like this:

And Mencimer's explained where that came from.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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