Tempest in the tea party

The Tea Party "movement" is now experiencing some "growing pains."  Is this the beginning of a political party, a charitable "educational" organization to train campaign volunteers, or is someone about  to make a fast buck off the good intentions of political "novices?"  Someone has some explaining to do.

The Tea party faithful will be trekking to Nashville, Tennessee early next month for what is being billed as the first "National Tea Party Convention."  The "convention" website lists many sponsoring "Tea Party" groups and individuals.  Former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin will deliver the keynote address.  Other speakers include Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Joseph Farah of World Net Daily.

The "fee" for the February 4-6 event is $549.  Getting to Nashville, and staying at the Opryland hotel where the event is held is extra.  Since most, if not all, of the people involved in "Tea Party" protesting last summer were volunteers or barely-reimbursed impromptu organizers, the price tag raised eyebrows.  Now there are questions about the "for-profit" structure of the "Tea Party Nation" group which is organizing the event.

NBC's Domenico Montenaro blogged the first rumblings:

The little-known organizer is Judson Phillips, a self-described "small-town lawyer." He is a former assistant district attorney now in private practice, specializing in driving-under-the-influence and personal-injury cases. He is organizing the convention with his wife, Sherry, his sister-in-law, and a handful of other volunteers.

A background check of various public records databases raises questions about how he has handled money in the past. The search shows that Phillips filed for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy in 1999 and during the past decade, he has had three federal tax liens against him, totaling more than $22,000.

Dr. Melissa Clouthier's blog says it is not clear whether Phillips intends to make the Tea Party Nation a political action committee, a charity or a for-profit venture:

Local Tea Party insiders say that long-time Republican donor Bill Hemrick [he gave $1000 to the NRCC in late 2009 and to the Fred Thompson and Marsha Blackburn campaigns among others], owner of Upper Deck Trading cards, gave Judson Philips at least $50,000 and maybe the whole $125,000 to cover Tea Party Nation's Sarah Palin speaker's fee. This act led Tea Party activists to believe the Tennessee Republican Party has been involved in the closed-door organizing.

Meanwhile, all money made by the sold-out event will go straight to Tea Party Nation, Inc. while grassroots activists have donated their time to make the event happen.

Tami Killmarx, a nurse, and an original member of the Nashville Tea Party Nation Steering Committee says," I don't believe for an instant that this money that Judson Philips is making will go to anyone but him. He doesn't have a PAC. He's been promising to form a 527."

Erick Erickson is a former attorney and editor of the conservative newsblog, RedState.com:

I think the good doctor (blogger Clouthier)  and I both hope it is a success and energizes lots of people to get involved, but all signs are pointing to something not so good.

Just as a "for instance," were I still practicing law I'd advise clients to have their 501(c)(4) or 527 already set up before taking people's money. Saying the organization will turn around and pour the collected money into an as of yet unformed 527 or 501(c)(4) is questionable, if only from a tax standpoint.

Mr. Phillips is quoted as saying that the Tea Party Convention is not a political party's convention, it is a private event, and as such, is nobody's business.

Dr. Clouthier wrote earlier in the week for Pajamas Media, "Why is Sarah Palin Associating with the For-Profit Tea Party Nation?" about the concerns that a sudden, "for-profit" aspect of the loosely organized facets of the Tea Party movement is unsettling and could taint the participants, such as Governor Palin and Rep. Bachmann.

The conservatives and Republicans who treasure politicians Palin, Bachmann, and Blackburn and appreciate the energy and ethics of the Tea Party protestors do not want anything to stand in the way of success for the 2010 and 2012 elections.  Harnessing what began last summer as a people's movement, giving it some direction and purpose surely can be done without changing its very nature. 

While it is true that Democrats and liberal-leaning media organizations,(such as the NBC/MSNBC blogger who initiated the Tea Party Convention story) would love to pick, pull and unravel the Tea Party fabric, to ignore the troubling motivations of the Tea Party Nation's "profiteer" is a mistake.  Let Judson Phillips explain and let it be a lesson, but don't let the nay-saying get in the way of the rising tide to November.

There is no Republican National Convention between now and November's mid-term elections. Conservatives, Republicans, and Tea Party protestors need to get organized and they need to find "heroes."  If the new political "activists" who go to Nashville next month accomplish either of those goals, the Tea Party Convention will be a huge success.  

Jane Jamison is publisher of the conservative news/commentary blog, UNCOVERAGE.net