The Tea Party has been billed as an organic grassroots operation, but a newly uncovered document obtained by Politico suggests the movement has been successfully co-opted as a Republican fundraising ploy.
GOP political consultant Joe Wierzbicki floated the proposal a year ago today to create the Tea Party Express, a nationwide bus tour to "give a boost to our PAC and position us as a growing force/leading force as the 2010 elections come into focus." His idea eventually became one of the best known brands in the Tea Party movement.
The document cautioned planners to be careful when discussing the ruse to use Tea Parties for political gain. "We have to be very, very careful about discussing amongst ourselves anyone we include 'outside of the family' because quite frankly, we are not only not part of the political establishment or conservative establishment, but we are also sadly not currently a part of the 'tea party' establishment," Wierzbicki wrote.
Wierzbicki, who works for the Sacramento firm Russo Marsh + Rogers, went on to outline how conservative media including Fox News could be leveraged to hype the Tea Party Express. He recommended using "mentions and possibly even promotion from conservative/pro-tea party bloggers, talk radio hosts, Fox News commentators, etc..."
Citing Michigan as an example, he noted that one of the plan's primary goals would be to elect Republican candidates. "It is also worth considering making a return run to Michigan. Former Republican Michigan governor, John Engler, has recently stated that he believes the Republican Party will do quite well in Michigan," he continued.
But the primary goal was fundraising for the founding firm's PAC. Despite quadrupling their take in March they told Politico, "We're hardly making any money at all."
Ken Vogel, who broke the story, discussed it on MSNBC's Countdown With Keith Olbermann Wednesday.
"The firm, Russo Marsh, and its operatives have really pushed back hard against this idea that they're making a lot of money off of it. They say, yes, we received $1.9 million in payments from this PAC, which is now the Tea Party Express, but a lot of that was for overhead," Vogel told Olbermann.
He said there's "no doubt" the plan "has been a wild success beyond the sort of most ambitious expectations of these operatives." The GOP has successfully "tapped the Tea Party for a sustainable revenue stream," he added.
This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast April 14, 2010.