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“The Reverse Mortgage Industry Of Politics”: How The Tea Party Became As Corrupt As The Beltway It Loathes

This week, ProPublica released a report on the financial (and moral) corruption of a Tea Party group operating under the name Move America Forward, which was founded by one Sal Russo. Russo also helped start the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, aka the Tea Party Express. Move America Forward has run fake drives to give care packages to troops, stolen images of other charitable campaigns and passed them off as its own, and trumpeted a nonexistent partnership with Walter Reed Hospital — all while funneling very real millions to itself. The group is an industry leader at taking your Tea Party sentiments (if you have them) and turning them into profits.

Unfortunately, the continuing success of Sal Russo and the Tea Party Express is emblematic of a larger failure of the American right — and perhaps the larger project of American self-governance.

Earlier this year, The Daily Caller‘s Alexis Levinson reported that other Tea Party groups that had raised millions spent up to 80 percent of their money on operating expenditures, salaries, consultants, and mailing list companies, which were often owned by the people who ran the groups themselves. The Tea Party is essentially a landlord class; its fiefdom is the truly felt convictions of others.

There is nothing new about this. The Tea Party gained traction in an environment defined by massive resentment and fear directed at the Obama presidency, disgust at the bailouts of the Bush and Obama eras, and the wreckage of a Republican electoral defeat, all of which was especially conducive to the growth of parasite groups like the Tea Party Express.

In February of 2010, I reported a story from a “Tea Party Convention” in Nashville, hosted by the for-profit group Tea Party Nation. Leader Juddson Phillips left his job as a lawyer to draw a salary. Tickets for this grassroots uprising cost more than $500. The great motive behind it was transforming the organizers into richer men and political kingmakers in their state.

This gross profiteering is not unique to right-wingers. Political consultants do hilariously weird things. John Weaver, a consultant who advises prominent Republican candidates to enact his own distaste for conservatives, pulled an all-timer when he convinced his candidate’s campaign to pay him, partly, through a corporation that shared the exact same name as that of another consultant’s business. That helped to hide how well he was doing — until it didn’t.

People who give themselves to full-time political activism deserve some recompense for their work and expertise. And of course, even the most populist of political movements will attract, and even require, professional leadership from without. After all, even punk rock bands require “the suits” to handle business and arrange for the to-be-destroyed hotel room. Even St. Paul demanded payment for his services.

But there was something especially galling about the level of self-dealing enrichment and deception at the head of the Tea Party movement, particularly because the movement started as a disgusted response to the self-dealing enrichment and deception in Washington.

Profiteering has been an acute problem almost right from the beginning for the Tea Party. It is like the reverse mortgage industry of politics: making money by giving an awful deal to an older, whiter customer base, then leaving town just as the fools realize it leaves them with nothing.

It’s easy to write them off as just another bunch of opportunists. But the endemic corruption of this movement should trouble the American right, if not the American conscience. The conservative diagnosis of Washington’s brokenness is that Americans have outsourced the task of self-government to a managerial class in Washington, a corruption that has transformed our nation’s capital into “the Beltway,” a shorthand for D.C.’s toxic culture of cronyism.

The populist right’s instinctive response — the Tea Party — immediately became just another added layer of cronyism. A grassroots corruption. Really, a weed. If the American people have outsourced their self-government to Washington, the conservative movement made another dirty deal, allowing itself to be entertained in outrage carnivals run by for-profit activists. Excepting the exceptions, the populist right’s response to dishonesty and graft was to generate another set of swindlers who wear flag-lapel pins, lie to their faces, and help themselves to the cash.

Yes, we built that. And H.L. Mencken laughs. Self-government is just another product, and no one can be bothered to read the fine print.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, Senior Correspondent, The Week, August 8, 2014

August 9, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Tea Party, Washington Beltway | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Helping The Troops?”: Conservative Military Charity Faces Serious Allegations

Any time a charity is accused of fraud, it’s alarming, but especially during a war, there’s something even more outrageous about dubious charities that claim to be helping veterans and active-duty military personnel.

Last year, for example, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, was forced to abruptly resign over her connections to something called Allied Veterans of the World. The Florida-based non-profit was accused of trying to “defraud the public and governmental agencies by misrepresenting how much of its proceeds were donated to charities affiliated with Veterans Administration.”

This year, a Tea Party affiliated group called Move America Forward, is facing allegations every bit as serious. Kim Barker’s piece in The Daily Beast raises serious questions the charity will have to answer quickly.

Move America Forward calls itself the nation’s “largest grassroots pro-troop organization,” and has recruited a bevy of Republican luminaries, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney, to support its efforts.

Yet an examination of its fundraising appeals, tax records and other documents shows that Move America Forward has repeatedly misled donors and inflated its charitable accomplishments, while funneling millions of dollars in revenue to the men behind the group and their political consulting firms.

Barker’s report raises allegations that, if true, may point to illegalities, including the possible use the charity’s funds to subsidize conservative political action committees.

The driving force behind Move America Forward is Sal Russo, 67, the longtime political consultant who is listed on the 10-year-old charity’s tax returns as chief strategist.

Russo is better known for helping to form the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, also known as the Tea Party Express, one of the largest Tea Party groups in the country.  Consultants from his Sacramento-based firm, Russo, Marsh and Associates, also set up two other PACs, the Move America Forward Freedom PAC and the Conservative Campaign Committee, to aid conservative causes and candidates.

According to its tax returns, Move America Forward paid out more than $2.3 million – about 30% of the group’s overall expenditures – to Russo or his firm.

Barker talked to a former Tea Party Express consultant who said, “It was just so shady. With PACs, I know it’s dirty money – it’s politics. But this is a charity that’s supposed to be helping the troops.”

It’s not clear who, if anyone, is handling the day-to-day management of this charity. The organization’s former executive director left in 2012 “and does not seem to have been replaced.”

The same report goes on to detail instances in which Move America Forward falsely claimed to deliver care packages to troops, used photos in fundraising and promotional materials that belonged to other organizations, and even boasted to donors about a partnership with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that never existed.

And yet, despite all of this, Dave Weigel notes that Move America Forward benefited from testimonials from Dick Cheney, Rick Perry, Rush Limbaugh and other high-profile Republicans.

Obviously, the charges raised in this investigatory piece remain in the realm of unproven allegations. But given the evidence and seriousness of the potential wrongdoing, it’s easy to imagine law enforcement taking a keen interest in Move America Forward’s records, bank accounts, and activities.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 5, 2014

August 6, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Veterans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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