Politics

Tea Partiers distribute signs paid for by RNC

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Alex Pappas
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      Alex Pappas

      Alex Pappas is a Washington D.C.-based political reporter for The Daily Caller. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and the Mobile Press-Register. Pappas is a graduate of The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was editor-in-chief of The Sewanee Purple. While in college, he did internships at NBC's Meet the Press and the White House. He grew up in Mobile, Ala., where he graduated from St. Paul's Episcopal School. He and his wife live on Capitol Hill.

The Republican National Committee is paying for signs and political buttons used by Tea Party groups — despite widespread disagreement among the conservative, grassroots activists on whether the movement should work to elect candidates within the Republican party or steer clear from it.

The items, paid for by the RNC, were on full display at a Friday press conference of Tea Party activists in Washington. At the afternoon event at the Capitol Hill Suites, activists in town for the “Take the Town Halls to Washington” project passed out the red-white-and-blue buttons and signs emblazoned with the words “Listen to Me!”

Text at the bottom of the sign reads: “Paid for by the Republican National Committee.”

Michael Patrick Leahy, an organizer of the Take the Town Halls to Washington project that is bringing Tea Party activists to the capital to lobby Democrats on President Obama’s health-care bill, admitted that the RNC “did provide the signage,” but said he didn’t know the details of the arrangement with Republicans and couldn’t explain how the signs got there. “They just showed up,” he said.

An RNC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Daily Caller that the signs were given to the group at its request.

The buttons and signs were visible both at the press conference and inside “the war room,” a small area inside the hotel where the “Take the Town Halls to Washington” project is headquartered. A stack of signs sat on a chair in the conference room during the presser.

Leahy downplayed the significance of the items, explaining, “We’re taking help from anybody that has an interest in this cause.”

“They’re a lot of people who are volunteers in this project,” he said. “Anybody that wants to help take the town halls to Washington — we are glad to have their help.”

While a number of self-identified Tea Party candidates are running in Republican primaries across the country, there is fear among Republicans that some activists will run as third-party candidates and split the conservative vote, catapulting Democrats into office. One example in recent days is the candidacy of Jon Scott Ashjian, who recently announced his candidacy to run under the Tea Party of Nevada banner against Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada.

RNC chairman Michael Steele, attempting to keep the activists from supporting third-party candidates, met with activists in Washington several weeks ago.

At the Friday press conference, Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, said members of Congress still undecided on the health-care bill are contemplating politics and not policy. He said legislators have seen all the information on the bill and already know how they feel about it and what’s holding them back from making a decision is the consideration of how the vote will affect their re-election.

One activist at the press conference was Kansas radiologist and blogger Milton Wolf, who claims to be Obama’s second cousin once removed. “I wish my cousin Barack the greatest success in office. But I feel duty-bound to rise in opposition to Obamacare. I must take a stand for my patients, my profession and, ultimately, my country,” said Wolf, whose mother and the president’s grandmother were first cousins.

Wolf, in town for the Take the Town Halls to Washington project, said even though he emailed the office of his congressman, Rep. Dennis Moore, the Democrat wouldn’t meet with him Friday over the bill.

At the end of the conference, Wolf — accompanied by about ten others, including his family and activists with video cameras — marched over to the Longworth House office building to demand a meeting with Moore.

After a receptionist in Moore’s office told Wolf that the congressman was away from the office and would be back later in the afternoon, Wolf asked if Moore was “too busy” to talk about health-care. “He’s not here, sir,” the receptionist countered.

Wolf left a note for the congressman and said he would stick around Washington to see if Moore would sit down with him. A federation of 30 Tea Party groups is behind the organization of the Take the Town Halls to Washington and is encouraging others like Wolf to meet with their representatives.

They plan to rally outside of the Cannon House office building at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning in an event organized by Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks.