Republican partisans — aided by lobbyists and corporate front groups — are exploiting the legitimate feelings of anger and distrust among many struggling Americans. These operatives and profiteers, many of them experienced public relations professionals, have set up sophisticated social networking portals and online solutions to control the flow of information within tea party organizations. As gatekeepers to ostensibly open forums, these political operatives and profiteers have been able to set the political agenda of the tea parties and hand out marching orders. And tea party profiteers are making millions cashing in on the movement. They are selling tea party support to candidates and policies which continue the legacy of Bush-era unregulated capitalism and corporate bailouts:
– Eric Odom: Odom, who appears regularly on Fox News and on other venues as a spokesman for the tea party movement, is at the center of tea party profiteering. Odom maintains dozens, possibly hundreds of tea party websites and community forums which he controls through a “Ning” technology based social networking platform. Odom’s vast online control of county, state, and issue oriented tea party websites is done through his two for profit consulting companies: American Liberty Alliance and Strategy Activism, LLC. His American Liberty Alliance has served as a hub between disparate tea party groups and right-wing front groups. In a biographical video he posted on YouTube, Odom explained that he has worked for years on local and statewide Republican campaigns developing “stealth type marketing…some say ‘attack sites.’” He boasted that he built “sites behind the scenes, many of them to this day no one today knows I took part in, some of them were actually very effective in defeating the opponent.” While it is unclear exactly who is paying Odom now for his tea party profit ventures, Odom has delicately straddled independent populist rhetoric while proclaiming that his network will work exclusively for the election of Republican candidates this year.
– Allen Fuller: According to Tennessee business records, Odom’s Strategic Activism, LLC business partner is Republican new media consultant Allen Fuller, who also maintains a firm called Flat Creek Public Affairs. Fuller may be the best clue to find out who pays Odom. On his website, Fuller counts Jane Norton, the GOP candidate for Senate in Colorado, as a client, and also receives payments from several other Republican members of Congress. Fuller helps corral tea party support to American Majority, a Republican training organization.
– Glenn Beck: Beck, the most powerful promoter of the tea parties in the media, often rants during his regular programming that investing in gold is the only way to hedge against a supposed deep inflation in the future. He does not disclose, however, that gold companies are his primary sponsors, or that the gold companies he promotes have predatory fees: Goldline, one of Beck’s sponsors, sells gold for 30-35% more than market value. “Here’s the deal, call Goldline, study it out, pray on it,” Beck advises his listeners. Beck has cemented his control over the tea parties by launching his own 9.12 project network of social networking sites — which are hosted by his for profit media company Mercury Radio Arts.
– Tea Party Nation: As a for-profit business, Tea Party Nation organized the Tea Party Convention this year at Nashville’s swank Opryland Gaylord hotel. The convention, set at the “grassroots” ticket price of $550 per person, features a Madison Avenue fashion company selling tea party jewelry and a paid ($120,000) speech by Sarah Palin. Tea Party Nation also maintains a message board.
– Dick Armey: As ThinkProgress has documented, Armey has a long history of organizing conservative grassroots causes in support of his corporate clients. Armey presents himself as a ideologue, who helms his nonprofit FreedomWorks as a mere exercise in his free market beliefs. But while Armey rails against the Wall Street bailout and efforts to rebuild the foundations of the economy, his own lobbying firm represented AIG, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch during the bailouts. Indeed, even his nonprofit still pays him a lobbyist salary of $550,000 per year.
– Tea Party Express: The Tea Party Express bus tour, and affiliated political action committee, has raised funds using tea party messages. The Tea Party Express effort has been a slick public relations gimmick of the Sacramento-based consulting firm Russo, Marsh and Rogers (RMR). RMR has worked on several stealth campaigns for Republican clients, including the underhanded push to recall Gov. Gray Davis (D-CA). In any case, the Tea Party Express, which RMR staffers operate, has proved to be a cash cow for RMR — in 2009 alone, it plunged at least $1,025,559 of money it raised back into RMR.
The profiteers say that the original American revolutionaries cast their tea into the Boston harbor as a simple rejection of taxation, so the modern tea party movement should similarly reject increased financial regulations, health reform, and taxes on the rich. But the history tells a different story. Boston revolutionaries rejected subservience to the East India Company, a British-run international corporation. They cast the tea into the harbor as a symbolic message to say that their taxes should go back into the American community, not subsidizing the profits of London elites and foreign corporations. Now, Republican tea party profiteers are trying to exploit the movement, pushing them to oppose policies which would actually liberate the middle class and crack down on international corporations. Despite the populist rhetoric, the profiteers see the tea party movement as a pool to extract fundraising dollars and volunteers for Republican campaigns. Indeed, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, himself a former lobbyist, has said that he has an “expectation” that tea partiers loyally toe the Republican line.