The Tea Party needs more transparency

William Temple Contributor
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Can I throw the national press a bone?  I mean, it’s not an “October Surprise” or anything, but it’s certainly a story with tea floating suspiciously in the water.  Can we ask the question: “Who gave the Tea Party Patriots a cool million dollars just before the election? Let that bag steep for a minute!

I believe there is a real story being missed by the media in not following up on the Neil Cavuto press conference this past week.  (Any investigative reporters out there “following the money?”)  I’m not a reporter, but my jaw dropped when I heard the FOX News announcement.  As a truly curious grassroots Tea Party aficionado, I have a few Luddite instincts.  And this stinks like week-old roadkill on a hot day!  (No mellow Earl Gray here!)  And yes, as an outside-the-Beltway, red-state, black-powder guy I’m familiar with the smell.

Several questions come to mind.  We are told that the donor wants to remain anonymous, and I appreciate that.  And I think privacy is a wonderful thing, though not mentioned in the Constitution.  And I wouldn’t have cared had the donor given twenty, fifty, or even a thousand dollars.  But this is press-conference-size, lookie-here money being tossed around.  And the gnawing, disturbing question for many of us in the Tea Parties is what are the connections to the donor?  Could he/she possibly be from one of the two major parties?  (I wonder which?)  And if so, were there any conditions attached to this money?  Why was it all given to Tea Party Patriots, and none to Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Express, Freedom Works, Unite in Action, or any of the other large or small Tea Party organizations, all desperate for contributions, and with them, national prominence.  Is the money intended to divide these groups, or help one succeed at the expense of the others?  What is the relationship of the donor to TPP staff?  Is there influence peddling going on here?  Has TPP bestowed tri-corn hat status on the donor?

We are told that the money will not be used to support candidates; it will only go to Tea Parties that apply for grants from the Tea Party Patriot’s board and to get-out-the-vote operations.  Excuse me, which Tea Parties and which get-out-the-vote operations?  How can this money be used, and will there be a “transparent” accounting following the election, revealing where it went and who received it?  How much will be applied as “administrative costs?”  But most importantly, is it possible that the TPP has sold out to a major political party as it competes for contributions and visibility among other umbrella groups?

But let’s not beat around the teapot!  Since last February’s rise of the Tea Party political behemoth, there have emerged several umbrella organizations (mentioned above) that have tried to mount this steaming kettle and ride it to fame and glory.  This is not surprising, should not shock anyone, and is perfectly predictable human nature.  And it is always the case that some “would-be” leaders will try to exalt themselves and take credit for the success of any powerful organization or movement.  For them it is always a matter of being in the right place and at the right time.

But trying to mount this pot, and stay on top, while posturing on “Glenn Beck” or any of the other establishment media shows has caused bitter partisan squabbles among these umbrella organizations and their staffs, often descending into full-time behind-the-scenes struggles.  Each vies nastily with the other for position, or forms alliances against another, all the while publicly asserting their commitment to “grassroots” anonymity.  (We are “all” the leader of the Tea Party movement don’t you know?)

Increasingly the groups maneuver viciously, with the ultimate cost paid by the Tea Parties themselves.  Open email resentments proliferate (I’ve seen them) and are unhesitatingly expressed against any other group that succeeds in advancing its goals and agendas.  The emails assail the illegitimate status of the current pretender to the throne; a million-dollar prize the obvious demonstration of hegemony.

This internecine wrangling has reached the point where the Tea Party umbrella groups actually work to undermine each other’s efforts, rather than cooperate for the good of the cause.  I saw this happen with the Glenn Beck, the 9/11, and the 9/12 events this year.  Two entities united and refused to support or promote another, declaring their own event, the “real” Tea Party event, and placing it on the same weekend and the following day from the one they intended to snub: even to the point where the 9/12 event was divided into three events nationwide so as to frustrate and diminish turnout for the 9/11 group the day before.  And Glenn Beck’s event diminished turnout for all of them.  (Tea Party folks can only be bussed to D.C. so many times in a year, and these groups manipulated that fact for their own ends.)  Ironically, these petty attempts to claim hereditary preeminence and historic recognition for the jostling umbrella organizations demonstrates the same hubris that helped rally the Tea Parties against our current government in the first place.

It’s important to realize that these self-anointed Tea Party “Caesars” do not speak for the thousands of Tea Parties across the country, which are trying to restore our nation’s founding principles along with its Constitution.  The umbrella groups should be helping the individual Tea Parties, not trying to coalesce power for themselves.  And their leaders are conspicuous by the fact that they are not grassroots in the least.  You won’t find them riding 12 hours on a bus on their own dime, stopping at public rest stops along the way, or booking low-budget lodging in order to attend Tea Party events around the country.  But you can bet who will be in the VIP areas, speaking at every event, and challenging the rest of us to sacrifice for glory in November.

So a bone to the press if you’ll do some digging and follow the money, there might just be a story there.  And maybe we can get some Tea Party transparency at the same time.

William Temple is a historical re-enactor, a pastor of a Bible church in Brunswick, Ga., and a well-known figure at Tea Party events across the country.