Revelations about the connections between a Republican lobbying firm with a long history of astroturfing and one of the two main factions of "Tea Party" protesters are raising fresh concerns that the GOP has successfully hijacked the right-wing Tea Party movement.

A Libertarian political consultant interviewed by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow agrees that in many places the tea partiers' struggle against being coopted is already "a lost cause."

"In some places it's being fought out," Stephen Gordon told Maddow on Tuesday. "In some places it's always been a lost cause. ... People are trying to do the right thing, but GOP organizations and campaigns are effectively taking over the Tea Party movement in some places in the country."

The involvement of the Republican lobbying firm of Russo, Marsh, and Associates with the group known as the Tea Party Express has been apparent for some time, but Talking Points Memo backed up those suspicions on Tuesday with hard numbers from FEC filings. The filings show that between July and November of this year, the PAC behind the Tea Party Express spent almost two-thirds of its $1.33 million budget on payments to Russo, Marsh or people connected with it.

As Raw Story reported last month, the firm's apparent goal is to channel populist Tea Party discontent into Republican electoral victories in 2010 and 2012. Members of the more genuinely grassroots Tea Party Patriots have been expressing their anger over this for months, and Talking Points Memo has now obtained an email from one Patriot asking, "What would the true grassroots people think if they knew their money is being spent in this manner?"

Additional analysis of the FEC reports by Mother Jones has turned up a case of the PAC spending $1600 on dinner for six at a fancy Sacramento restaurant.

"Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express have been clashing for months over which group truly represents the movement," the article notes. "A flashpoint came this fall when a member of the Tea Party Patriots' board, Amy Kremer, switched sides and joined Tea Party Express, allegedly taking the Patriots' extensive email database with her and locking the rest of the board out of the TPP website. In November, this led the Patriots to go to court to get an injunction against her to reclaim ownership of the group's electronic resources. The fight hasn't helped the Patriots' view of their tea party rivals."

Gordon explained to Maddow that the Tea Party movement was vulnerable to takeover at the start, because "many of these people had no political experience ... so when somebody comes in and offers to help organize and help them with these things, yeah, that's great."

"But what these Republican consultants want," Gordon concluded, "they want those email lists, they want the dollars, they want to control the organization so that they can exploit it for their political purposes. ... Unfortunately, the political purposes of most establishment Republicans is not the same as a grassroots conservative Tea Party person."

This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Dec. 29, 2009.

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