Republican leaders are stepping up their campaign to discredit tea party activists who are challenging them on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, accusing conservatives of lining their own pockets at the expense of the GOP.
A recent radio ad for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — who is under attack from the right in his own primary — blasts the Senate Conservatives Fund for spending its money “on a luxury townhouse with a wine cellar and hot tub in Washington, D.C.” House Republicans joke privately about the “conservative-industrial complex.” Even Ann Coulter has warned of “con men and scamsters” infiltrating the tea party movement.
Such claims hold more water for some groups than others in a movement with no clear leader. The tea party, loosely defined, is scattered among more than a dozen multimillion-dollar organizations, from the Club for Growth to FreedomWorks, to the Tea Party Express and the conservative startup Madison Fund, all with different bottom lines and spending patterns.
Some of the groups that have come in for the most criticism, such as the Senate Conservatives Fund — which calls the McConnell radio ad inaccurate — actually do spend most of their money on candidates. Others, such as the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, have spent exactly zero in this election cycle on candidates, even as they raise millions from low-dollar donors.
Whatever their overhead, tea-party-aligned groups are spending tens of millions collectively, sometimes with little or no board oversight. Such groups tend to operate multiple fundraising entities, simultaneously pulling in checks for a 501(c)(3) charity, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group, a conventional political action committee subject to contribution limits and an unrestricted super PAC. Public records filed with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission revealed some unusual expenditures.
Club for Growth President Chris Chocola earned $510,786, from mid-2012 to mid-2013, tax records for the group’s advocacy arm show, pushing his election-cycle earnings to more than $1 million. Club spokesman Barney Keller called that “a pretty good deal,” given that U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue earns $5.5 million a year. “I would argue we have exactly the same effect on policy as the chamber does,” Keller said.
The Tea Party Express PAC raised $10 million in the 2012 cycle, more than three-quarters of it from donations of less than $200. But the group made only $259,500 in campaign contributions and $686,124 in independent campaign expenditures in that election, public records show. In the meantime, one of its lead organizers, political consultant Sal Russo, handled the bulk of the group’s fundraising, travel, consulting, direct mail and ad production — earning his California consulting firm Russo Marsh & Associates a cool $2.3 million, according to Political MoneyLine.
FreedomWorks paid its president and CEO, Matt Kibbe, $470,000 in 2012, or about $940,000 for the full election cycle. The group’s advocacy arm pulled in $15 million in 2012, according to its most recent tax disclosures, and spent $5 million on “advertising and promotion,” $1.4 million on “office expenses,” $1.3 million on “conferences, conventions and meetings,” and $74,285 in severance to a departing employee. A FreedomWorks board member also reportedly paid former House Majority Leader Dick Armey an $8 million settlement following his departure as chairman amid a FreedomWorks shakeup.
The Madison Project, a conservative PAC that has spent $51,884 opposing McConnell, spent $1.8 million in the 2012 election cycle. Some $97,500 of that was donated to candidates, FEC records show. But still more went to pay the group’s top organizers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Chairman and ex-Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., earned $66,540, according to the CRP, while his son, political director Drew Ryun, made $67,932.
Conservative organizers say they spend their money efficiently and employ relatively few staff while making a major impact. They take credit for helping elect such conservatives as Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. When McConnell told The New York Times recently that the GOP would “crush” conservative activists “everywhere,” tea party organizers turned his warning into a fundraising pitch.
This is the beast they created. And that flood of money they uncorked will be used against them as well. I think that's what we used to call poetic justice.
Paul Krugman: Health Reform and Affinity Fraud: "Over at Talking Points Memo, they seem bemused by the violent reaction on the right...
...to any suggestion that Obamacare is working as well as all the evidence suggests it is. Josh Marshall and Ezra Klein both made a fairly obvious point: Kathleen Sebelius’s resignation was almost surely timed to follow good news, so that her departure wouldn’t be easy to spin as part of a narrative about failed reform. The right, however, went ballistic — not so much expressing skepticism over the good enrollment numbers and the encouraging survey data as expressing total outrage and bewilderment that anyone believes the good news.
On the right they know, just know, that it’s a total disaster.
What’s interesting about this is that conservative health wonks, however much they may like to spin facts, know better: even on the right, everyone who knows anything about the subject has been telling people not to expect a collapse, a death spiral, whatever, and even suggesting that Republicans may need to accept that much of Obamacare is irreversible.
But not many people in that camp read, say, Avik Roy; they’re getting their information from Fox News and Rush, and they hear nothing but tales of disaster.
But why would they place so much faith in these sources? These are, after all, the same sources that told them that Romney was going to win big, that we were headed for hyperinflation, and much much more. How can such experiences not have instilled at least a bit of doubt?
Well, we basically know the answer. One thing I learned from reporting on the Madoff affair was the term “affinity fraud”: people are easily duped by con men who seem to be like them, to be their kind of people. What Fox, Rush etc. do is build a cultural and emotional bond with their audiences, based mainly on who they dislike and attack. And that bond induces those audiences to believe that what comes from these sources is the obvious truth, never mind what those arrogant elitists with their “facts” and “data” may be saying. (I’m turning into Stephen Colbert as we speak.)
Anyway, it’s quite a sight to behold...