Tea Party Disputes Take Toll on Convention
A Tea Party convention billed as the coming together of the grass-roots groups that began sprouting up around the country a year ago is unraveling as sponsors and participants pull out to protest its expense and express concerns about “profiteering.”
The convention’s difficulties highlight the fractiousness of the Tea Party groups, and the considerable suspicions among their members of anything that suggests the establishment.
The convention, to be held in Nashville in early February, made a splash by attracting big-name politicians. (Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech.) But some groups have criticized the cost — $549 per ticket and a $9.95 fee, plus hotel and airfare — as out of reach for the average tea partier. And they have balked at Ms. Palin’s speaking fee, which news reports have put at $100,000, a figure that organizers will not confirm or deny.
Tea Party events exploded last winter, as increasingly large gatherings protested the federal stimulus bill, government bailouts and proposed health care legislation. While they vary by name, specific tenets and relative embrace of anarchy, such groups tend to unite around fiscal conservatism and a belief that the federal government — whether led by Republicans or Democrats — has overstepped its constitutional powers.
Tea Party Nation, the convention organizer, started as a social networking site for the groups last year, a kind of Facebook for conservatives to “form bonds, network and make plans for action.” But its founders, former sponsors and participants are now trading accusations.
Philip Glass, the national director of the National Precinct Alliance, announced late Sunday that “amid growing controversy” around the convention, his organization would no longer participate. His group seeks to take over the Republican Party from the bottom by filling the ranks of local and state parties with grass-roots conservatives, and Mr. Glass had been scheduled to lead workshops on its strategy.
“We are very concerned about the appearance of T.P.N. profiteering and exploitation of the grass-roots movement,” he said in a statement. “We were under the impression that T.P.N. was a nonprofit organization like N.P.A., interested only in uniting and educating Tea Party activists on how to make a real difference in the political arena.”
Mr. Glass said he was also concerned about the role in the convention of groups like Tea Party Express, which has held rallies across the country through two bus tours, and FreedomWorks, a Tea Party umbrella. He called them “Republican National Committee-related groups,” and added, “At best, it creates the appearance of an R.N.C. hijacking; at worst, it is one.”
Erick Erickson, the editor of the influential conservative blog RedState.com, wrote this month that something seemed “scammy” about the convention. And the American Liberty Alliance withdrew as a sponsor after its members expressed concerns about the convention’s finances being channeled through private bank accounts and its organizer being “for profit.”
“When we look at the $500 price tag for the event and the fact that many of the original leaders in the group left over similar issues, it’s hard for us not to assume the worst,” Eric Odom, the executive director of the American Liberty Alliance and an organizer of the tax day rallies last April, wrote on the group’s Web site.
Sherry Phillips, who founded and runs Tea Party Nation with her husband, Judson, said Monday that it is not a nonprofit group.
Ms. Phillips said the American Liberty Alliance was “a for-profit company that takes donations.” The National Precinct Alliance, she said, demanded compensation of around $3,000. “Our budget on this convention is very tight and we could not afford them,” she wrote in an e-mail message.
She declined to comment on Ms. Palin’s speaking fee.
“If there is any profit,” Ms. Phillips said, “the money will go toward furthering the cause of conservatism.”
Mr. Glass denied that his group had requested money and said convention organizers had asked his group to pay $2,200 to speak.
As for FreedomWorks, it is not a convention sponsor. Tea Party leaders in training sessions at the group’s headquarters on Monday said their members, for the most part, could not afford the convention or were not interested.
I wonder if they'll be selling oscelots' noses and wrens' livers as snacks in the stands at the convention.