Report: Arizona-based website took nearly $500,000 in donations but didn't turn out support for tea party or candidates
A website run out of Arizona, ostensibly to support the so-called tea party movement, is under scrutiny after a local news organization dug into their finances and ownership, only to find what some may characterize as a remarkable scam.
According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) disclosure forms, JoinTheTeaParty.us took in approximately $469,000 in donations this year and spent roughly half its budget on marketing, with the rest going to distinctly non-political avenues.
In fact, according to CBS 5 in Phoenix, there's no evidence the group spent so much as a dime to promote tea party candidates or related events.
FEC forms pulled by CBS affiliate show the group spent nearly $200,000 on search engine optimization and Google sponsorship, along with Facebook ads promoting their website. Submitting a Google search for "tea party" returned with the site atop the list of results.
They even advertised the site on Craigslist, with an impassioned appeal to "patriots" who may be sympathetic to conservative causes. Ironically enough, the ad states numerous times that this group in particular is a "marketing campaign" with a fundraising goal of $500,000 per week.
The domain is owned by Todd Cefaratti, an Arizona businessman with a background in data collection. His other business specializes in mining contact information and reselling the leads to clients in the reverse mortgage industry.
"Thousands" of donors have given their personal contact information and credit card numbers to the tea party site, according to CBS.
In spite of the obvious political implications of calling a group part of the tea party, which is not an official organization or political party, Cefaratti's website is run by "Stop This Insanity, Inc.," a 501(c)4 organization -- meaning, they are not a solely political organization and they're exempt from federal income taxes.
Unlike 501(c)3 groups, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) permits these organizations to actively participate in politics so long as it is not the group's primary function. That appears to be the case with this group.
In keeping with the very letter of the tax code, the site stipulates that it is "a non-partisan, non-profit social welfare organization dedicated to furthering the common good and general welfare of the people of the United States."
Confronted by a reporter with the Phoenix CBS affiliate, Cefaratti refused to answer questions, driving away in a black SUV with a custom license plate that read, "TPARTY1".
The CBS investigation, which credited an unnamed east coast activist who hit the telephones with concerns about the group, appears to owe its origins to the conservative political forum Free Republic.
Click here to read the CBS report.