Flushing Money Down the Tea Party Toilet

Do you know where your donations go? Not to candidates, if you give to these five Tea Party organizations.

Mike Theiler / Reuters

It’s a scenario that has become all too familiar. You’re frustrated with the gridlock in D.C. You’re sickened by the burgeoning national debt. You think the country has gone to “hell in a handbasket” under the current administration and party leadership.

And then you get a direct mail piece, or an email, or see an ad on the web that promises change by supporting candidates who embrace your ideals.

Hopeful and excited to learn that there are organizations willing to fight for what you think will “fix this country,” you grab your credit card and fire off a donation, confident you have contributed to a worthwhile cause. If only it were so!

The reality may well be far from what you believe, and have a right to expect; in fact, you may be sickened to learn the truth about how little of your money actually goes to directly or indirectly supporting candidates and their campaigns.

This article is not a piece of commentary about beliefs or ideologies. Airing concerns openly can be constructive, civil debate can be productive, and incumbency shouldn’t equate to job security.

This article is about the hijacking of a movement that started in 2009 by the modern equivalent of the “Old West Snake Oil Salesman.” Slick, fast-talking, and capable of whipping a crowd into a frenzy, they travel from town to town peddling their promises of “change.’

The problem is evidence indicates some Tea Party groups care far less about your ideals and far more about your money—taking it and making it their own. They’re an ideological Ponzi scheme; they use donations to generate more donations, by creating sensationalistic ad campaigns to persuade donors they’re getting value, and to scare or guilt them, and new donors, into sending more donations.

Here are five very recognizable organizations that spend vastly more on fundraising efforts than on support for any candidate.

The charts, above and below, were created using actual values from the FEC financial reports filed by the Tea Party Leadership Fund, Tea Party Patriots, Madison Project, Sarah Palin’s PAC, and the Tea Party Express; from January 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014. To be clear, these numbers are exactly what each organization reported without manipulation or modification.

From the “best of the worst” to the “worst of the worst”—here are the amounts received and then spent on operations (like administrative costs, consultants, fundraising, online expenses, professional fees and travel). Here too are the amounts contributed either directly (contributions) or indirectly (independent expenditures) to candidates, for the five organizations.

Also shown are the (paltry) sums spent by each organization on candidates and campaigns. Bear in mind the (alleged) focus for these groups in the 2014 cycle is on regaining a GOP Senate majority.

Tea Party Leadership Fund

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Total receipts were $4,862,790, with expenses of $4,054,288 and $650,260 benefiting candidates; that’s 87 percent on expenses and 13 percent to candidates. Senate spending has been slight, while markedly almost $300,000 has been spent specifically in opposition to Speaker John Boehner.

Tea Party Patriots

Total receipts were $10,659,371, with expenses of $9,263,753 and $1,027,354 benefiting candidates. That’s 90 percent on expenses and 10 percent to candidates. The Mississippi race was conspicuously the largest investment the Tea Party Patriots made, with almost $600,000 spent in opposition to Thad Cochran, and more than $200,000 in support of Chris McDaniel. When pushing out just 10 percent to candidates, the rationale for dropping more than three-fourths of that trifling amount on a single race calls into question their political savvy, as well as it highlights their poor fiscal management.

Madison Project

Total receipts were $3,801,897, with expenses of $3,675,432 and $326,810 benefiting candidates. That’s 91 percent on expenses and 9 percent to candidates. Mitch McConnell drew the financial ire of the Madison Project with more than $50,000 spent in opposition to the Senate minority leader. McDaniel received the greatest financial support with more than $25,000 in total value, while five other senatorial candidates each got the maximum of $5,000 in cash contributions.

Sarah PAC

Total receipts were $2,068,666, with expenses of $2,120,019 and $106,000 benefiting candidates. That’s 95 percent on expenses and 5 percent to candidates. With just a measly one-hundred grand in candidate support, Sarah Palin’s PAC basically has taken a shotgun approach by doling out $5,000 cash contributions to eight senatorial candidates, and a half-dozen House candidates, most of which are notable for their primary losses.

Tea Party Express

Total receipts were $9,501,795, with expenses of $9,447,467 and $381,098 benefiting candidates. That’s 96 percent on expenses and 4 percent to candidates. As worthless as the Tea Party Express is in rationing out just a mere 4 percent to candidates, they too must have their politicking prowess questioned when more than $200,000 of their total went to Owen Hill, who withdrew in March when Cory Gardner stepped into the race.

Two noteworthy points are as follows: In addition to sharing abysmal records of candidate giving, four of the five organizations also spent MORE than they took in over the 18-month period cited. And in their battles against incumbent or “establishment” supported primary candidates they averaged a win a piece out of six tries. It is significant that the few wins they did have were from candidates (Daines, Ernst and Sasse) who enjoyed far more support from leadership and national party organizations.

Hardly an impressive record for this group of five, but one that highlights their lack of campaigning competency in addition to their pathetic and opaque financial practices.

Last Monday I asked, “Is the Tea Party Express Just a Fundraising Scam?” and wrote:

Move America Forward is by no means the only dubious charity out there; and Tea Party Express and their Our Country Deserves Better PAC is not the only political organization that has morphed from being a grassroots advocacy organization in 2009 to a fundraising machine today; others have also lost sight of their real mission, with little or no true regard for their donors. However the fact that they are not alone should make their behavior that much more appalling to donors.

While the Tea Party Express is the “worst of the worst,” they are not alone, and these five are still far from the entirety of the “Cannibal Conservative,” “Grifting Wing,” “Scamster,” or “Purity for Profit” organizations. Every donor should know where their money goes (or rather doesn’t go) with these groups, i.e. not toward supporting campaigns or candidates. On the contrary, most donor money is spent on raising more donor money, period.

Yes, it can be argued the country has gone to “hell in a handbasket.” Yes, gridlock frustration and national debt nausea are understandable. But if you truly want to change the direction of the country, then you have to do it legislatively; and before you can legislate, you have to win, and flushing money down the toilet is never a winning move.

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