New Tea Party PAC: Can it raise $10 million for midterm revolt?

Tea Party Nation announced at its first convention Friday that it’s forming a political action committee to help fund, train, and guide upstart campaigns across the country. It won’t be the first, or likely the last.

Ed Reinke/AP
Mark Skoda, a talk radio host who helped organize the National Tea Party Convention speaks during a news conference in Nashville, Friday. Skoda announced the creation of the Ensuring Liberty Corp., and an affiliated political action committee aimed at electing up to 20 candidates this fall.

With a vow to “take away the mystery of campaigns,” organizers of the first-ever Tea Party Convention followed up Friday with the announcement of a new political action committee that would work to elect "tea party"-style candidates in as many as 20 national races this fall.

It won’t be the first such endeavor since the millions-strong "tea party" movement first flooded onto the streets after CNBC reporter Rick Santelli’s much-publicized “rant” against a proposed government mortgage bailout a year ago.

For example, the Tea Party Express PAC spent $285,000 on Scott Brown’s race in Massachusetts. His victory bolstered the fortunes of the tea party movement by breaking the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, putting much of the Democratic agenda, including healthcare reform, in jeopardy. Moreover, there are literally dozens of smaller tea party PACs from Tennessee to California working to raise money for local tea party candidates.

Such PACs are expected to play a role in dozens of upcoming congressional elections in Florida, Kentucky, Arizona, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and several other states.

Tea party looking for corporate donations

The US Supreme Court’s recent decision to scale back part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms could also come to play a role. Tea party organizers gathered in Nashville, Tenn., say corporations are welcome to donate.

The establishment of various tea-party-related campaign funds is part of a rush by genuine organizers, K Street lobbyists, established party operatives, and even hucksters to cash in on the tea party moniker – a criticism that has been leveled from both outside and inside the movement against Tea Party Nation, the for-profit group that’s bringing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to Nashville for a speech Saturday night.

“I think the tea party movement has largely descended into ego and quest for purpose for individuals at the expense of what the tea party movement started out to be,”’s Erick Erickson, an influential conservative columnist based in Georgia, wrote recently, adding, “I think this national tea party convention smells scammy.”

Tea Party Nation spokesman Mark Skoda, who will head the nonprofit Ensuring Liberty Corp. and oversee the new PAC, unwittingly played into that skepticism Friday when he told reporters at a press conference that his PAC would bring new levels of transparency to the political process – and then refused to name the five other board members. (He said he’d announce their names next week.) Mr. Skoda also said he may financially benefit for work he does for the PAC.

Republican 'astroturf'?

The other major PAC, Tea Party Express, has been criticized by groups such as the American Liberty Alliance for resembling a Republican “astroturf” organization – using the tea party’s populist appeal to push a partisan GOP agenda. (See also the court fight in Florida over the tea party name.)

To be sure, antisocialist and pro-states’ rights activists like Skoda and Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, a Nashville lawyer, have found in the tea party movement a broad platform to help resist the progressive Democratic agenda in Washington while pushing basic tenets of fiscal responsibility, smaller government, and national security.

How wide and deep-pocketed that appeal is, the organizers promise, will be apparent via a comprehensive website where donors can track the Ensuring Liberty PAC’s efforts down to the dollar. Skoda believes the PAC will raise $10 million this year.

“We’ve been called racists and Nazis, but we’re comfortable with what we’re doing,” Skoda says. “Our government has got to stop not listening. The majority is not being heard.”


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