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Grifters Plague GOP: Tea Party Co-Opted by Profiteers

The Tea Party in South Dakota hasn't had much success at the ballot box. In this year's Republican primary, neither Lora Hubbel nor Stace Nelson, the candidates around whom South Dakota's revolution-reënactors most visibly rallied, broke 20% against frontrunners whom they would have us believe are "Republicans in Name Only." The hard right insurgents fielded only a handful of candidates to challenge sitting legislators in the primary, and none of them upset any incumbents. Like the Libertarians with whom they ideologically overlap, South Dakota's Tea Partiers are better described as a carriers of a vague label than organizers of a serious fundraising and vote-getting movement.

Nationally, the folks who adopt that vague label get more press but little more real electoral success. Some observers and hopeful candidates point to David Brat's upset of Eric Cantor as affirmation of Tea Party outrage and ballot-winning power, but the Tea Party as an organization had very little to do with Brat's primary win. Conservative writer Michael Lotfi says national Tea Party groups have given little practical help to candidates like Brat and are jumping on his bandwagon just to pad their pockets:

In fact, all of these groups have been collecting millions in donations, and they have not put a single dime into many winnable races.

According to a Washington Post report, the six largest national Tea Party groups have spent more than $37.5 million on the mid-terms so far. However, only $7 million of the spent donations have actually gone directly to candidates. Where did the other $30.5 million go? Well, it goes directly into their family members’ pockets for ‘consulting fees’, giving themselves lucrative benefit packages, paying themselves $272k/year salaries, and even spending $52k in interior decorating fees for one of their fancy Capitol Hill town-homes. How fiscally conservative of them [Michael Lotfi, "Dear Tea Party, On Cantor's Loss—You Didn't Build That,", 2014.06.11].

Lotfi notes that while super-PACs give about 60% of their money directly to candidates, Tea-flavored Senate Conservatives Fund (you know, the guys who vowed to elect an alternative to Mike Rounds in the SDGOP primary, then ignored the four eager and willing alternatives) and FreedomWorks have spent 40% of their cash on candidates. Lotfi says the Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, and Madison Project have spent 5% or less on candidates.

Failing to invest real money in real campaigns makes it look as if these conservative organizations don't really want to win and effect real policy change. They just want the attention and dollars uniquely available to those who adopt a radical right-wing persona:

If you want money and attention, you could do worse than become a conservative provocateur. Right-wing resentment—stoked by impossible promises and harnessed through donations—built a fortune for Glenn Beck, a political career for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and a burgeoning media empire for the late Andrew Breitbart.

Even if you think these lawmakers and activists are sincere—and I do—it’s hard not to see the whole operation as a perpetual swindle. Take the Affordable Care Act. With the re-election of President Obama, odds of repeal were slim-to-none. But rather than abandon the call for Obamacare repeal, conservative groups—and their allies in Congress—pushed further. Not because they thought it could happen, but because it was lucrative. As Robert Costa described for National Review at the time, “Business has boomed since the push to defund Obamacare caught on. Conservative activists are lighting up social media, donations are pouring in, and e-mail lists are growing” [Jamelle Bouie, "The GOP's Grifter Problem," Slate, 2014.05].

We've seen this faux-right grifterism in South Dakota. Annette Bosworth adopted a fake conservative Christian persona to access campaign donations to subsidize her family. Washington D.C. direct-mail firm Base Connect adopted Bosworth as the latest in its series of electorally doomed but PR-sparkly toys to elicit donations from vulnerable retirees. Bosworth has reported over $1.6 million in campaign contributions so far. Base Connect, its partners, and other entities associated with her direct mail scheme have so far collected over 75% of that money, $1.25 million. Bosworth's amended first-quarter FEC report shows that she is still in dutch to her direct mailers for another $400K.

In other words, every penny so far documented that people sent Bosworth to fight for Tea Party principles really goes to clever marketers sending scary letters about ObamaCare. (The money she'll continue to raise will cover the $320 in Starbucks and $331 in Hy-Vee groceries Annette paid for with the campaign credit card while winning 5.75% of the GOP vote.)

Lotfi says donors should avoid Tea Party profiteers by giving their money to local groups. 95.8% of Bosworth's itemized donors came from out of state. In other words, they didn't know Annette Bosworth, and they weren't watching South Dakota press coverage of her train-wreck campaign. They just believed the scary letters that keep Base Connect in business. They wasted $1.6 million dollars and failed to make a political difference.

The Tea Party in South Dakota and elsewhere could be more successful. Dedicated conservatives could ally with liberals like me and populists like Rick Weiland to wage war against crony capitalism and other real threats to our liberty. They could turn off talk radio and focus on bringing neighbors together to cooperate in real local campaigns on real local issues.

But Tea Party Incorporated can't follow that business model. Conservative grifters like the Tea Party Express, Base Connect, and Annette Bosworth need donors to remain scared and isolated, to cling to their pre-fabricated mottoes, and to write their checks to profit centers with no real plan for positive political change.


  1. Jerry 2014.06.14

    So Obamacare is really a stimulus package for tea party wannabee grifters like Rounds. No repeal in sight, just picking the pockets of the ignorant. Good business plan.

  2. Tim 2014.06.14

    They have been doing it for years, until people giving to them wise up and turn Fox News off, nothing will change. If the people ever do wise up, the republican party as it is now, will go into the toilet.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.06.14

    Lots of young evangelicals have figured it out. They actually read their bibles and understand that the important issues came out of Jesus' mouth - stuff about caring for the poor, ill, stuff like that. They quit buying the whole gay panic routine, evil liberals, shiftless poor, etc.

    Those tea exploiters play to the racists, the ignorant, the fearful, the criminals, etc.

  4. Ann 2014.06.14

    Great post, thanks. Major props for quoting Michael Lofti too. The Tea Party has been completely co-opted. I still shudder to think of how much $ Bosworth raised. And $320 on Starbucks?

  5. Doctor Not Bricklayer 2014.06.14

    That would fill her car with gas many times over. She would not have to sell any more of her couches either!

  6. Donald Pay 2014.06.14

    Well, the grifters aren't just Tea Party types. There's a long history of this on the right.

    Look at Rounds' faux promise to abolish the Department of Education. He knows better, but it serves as a way to scam the dumb set out of money, and their votes.

    The right has always used issues for fundraising scams. They never want an issue solved, and if it is essentially over (like Obamacare), they will pretend it can be repealed. A big scam in the early to mid-2000s was drumming money out of the elderly over immigration reform. Most of that money went into the pockets of the fundraisers. I'll bet they will start cranking up the direct mail fundraising letters on that issue again.

    And, Cory, look at the whole faux Common Core hysteria. This was a very fringe movement, until the righty p.r. folks ginned it up to a point where they could fundraise off the people who are scared of their own shadows.

  7. Douglas Wiken 2014.06.14

    "The right has always used issues for fundraising scams. They never want an issue solved, "

    The South Dakota legislature filled with Republicans and the state offices filled with Republicans are all running on the idea that they never, ever really solve an issue because that ends their yammering propaganda and fundraising on the issue. And if that isn't enough reason, if they actually solve some of these never-ending problems, they might actually have to do some hard work on real issues.

  8. Tara Volesky 2014.06.15

    In my opinion, abortion would have to be the number one hot button issue to raise money, and get elected. Since Rowe vs Wade, Ron Paul is the only candidate that has had a bill to try and overturn it, but correct me if I am wrong, he could not find anyone to sign onto his bill.

  9. mike from iowa 2014.06.15

    Banning abortions is like banning guns-if they are outlawed,only outlaws will have them. Maybe,in the interest of fairness, we should start putting burdensome restrictions on guns and owners-you know you have to register your gun,get a vaginal probe of your brain to see if you are abnormal,owning/selling guns within 30 miles of an ambulatory care center and force all gunowners to carry their weapons full term even if they are brain dead and it is against their and their families wishes. Just for starters.

  10. Lynn 2014.06.15

    I was suspicious of the Tea Party Express to begin with it almost being a make believe organization to make a few people feel important but when that guy posted here on Madville that he was the owner of the Tea Party Express that just confirmed to me that it was a money making and ego building venture and not a true grass roots organization.

    These grifters further muddy up and hurt our political system from the "entertainers"(they admit they are not journalists) from Faux News to Base Connect, Super PACS and fake candidates like Bosworth that simply use it as a way to scam the system and innocent donors.

    "Go Local" movement should now be stressed even more in supporting your local politicians and organizations or party that you know and have scrutinized besides supporting local businesses, services, artists and farmers.

  11. bearcreekbat 2014.06.15

    mike from Iowa correctly says, "Banning abortions is like banning guns-if they are outlawed,only outlaws will have them." Proponents of laws restricting or eliminating abortion are really proponents of restricting or eliminating safe medical care for women who will have an abortion. For some odd reason, these proponents of abortion restrictions apparently don't seem to mind trying to force women back to dangerous back alley abortions that were most women's only resource before Roe.

  12. owen reitzel 2014.06.15

    to add to what you said bearcreekbat the rich will still be able to get safe abortions. They'll just fly to where its legal.

  13. Tara Volesky 2014.06.15

    I wouldn't send a dime to any of these political on-line so called political action committees. It's any easy way for them to get rich. It's a racket.

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