Former Tea Party Patriots leader describes group’s internal turmoil

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler told The Daily Caller that he resigned his leadership position with the grassroots organization last week out of frustration with how money is being spent and how closely the group has aligned itself with Republicans.

Tea Party Patriots (TPP) officials say they’re a coalition of more than 3,400 local tea party groups made up of more than 15 million members.

In an interview, Meckler — a well-known figure in the movement — cited, as an example, how Tea Party Patriots spent $250,000 to sponsor the Southern Republican Leadership Conference presidential debate in South Carolina this year.

“That bothered me on a lot of levels,” he said.

In an email obtained by TheDC, Meckler told the group’s board of directors last week that the expenditure was “a colossal waste, which served to foster the narrative that TPP is a tool of the Republican Party, while providing minimal [public relations] value at best.”

Speaking by phone from California this week, Meckler said he fought against spending the money on the GOP debate during the conference in Charleston for several reasons, including a poll that says 40 percent of people who self-identify as part of the tea party movement do not consider themselves Republicans.

“What happens when you sponsor a Republican debate and you try to explain to your friends who are Democratic tea partiers or independents that we’re not Republican? It doesn’t fly anymore,” he said.

He also made the case that $250,000 could have been better spent to further the tea party cause. (RELATED: Full coverage of the tea party movement

“I can’t even describe to you how much good that amount of money can do on the ground across the country,” Meckler said, suggesting that giving 25 local tea parties $10,000 would have been a better use of those funds.

TheDC first reported Meckler’s departure from the organization on Friday.

Meckler said he has also been at odds with the leadership of the organization “for many, many months” over how it is being run.

“It felt like it had become much more a top down organization,” he said, suggesting that the coordinators were not keeping with its mission of being led by the grassroots.

Meckler said the group has raised millions since its founding, and yet “very little of that money flows through to local chapters.”

He also said the decision to spend the $250,000 during the Southern Republican Leadership Conference was made by the board against his protests. “I’ve been making the argument against the big spending for a long time,” he said.

Meckler said his fellow co-founder and national coordinator, Jenny Beth Martin, felt differently than he did on these issues. As recently as just more than a week ago, the duo were doing TV appearances together to promote their book, and Meckler said there isn’t bad blood between them.

“We’re certainly not in a fight with each other by any means, but there’s a definite difference of opinion on how things should be,” he said. “And ultimately I lost that fight with the board and that’s why I left.”

The Daily Caller was initially unable to reach Martin for this story, but after publication she said, “Anytime there’s a departure like this, there’s going to be differences of opinion in how things happened, and I think that we’re seeing that.”

“We wish Mark well and we appreciate everything he’s done for the movement,” she told TheDC in an interview.

Responding to Meckler’s frustrations, Martin said that “pretty much every issue – major or minor – have been approved through the grassroots through our weekly webinar.”

“I think that it’s accurate to say there’s always differences of opinion,” Martin said. “But I don’t want to get into tit for tat or he said, she said.”

Tea Party Patriots released a statement after word of his departure, writing, “Mark Meckler’s resignation as an employee and from the Tea Party Patriots board follows months of discussions and good-faith differences on how best TPP can serve the tea party movement.”

“No one person or even small groups of people are responsible for the movement’s success and vitality,” the statement continued.

In an email obtained by TheDC to state coordinators announcing his resignation, Meckler admitted he was leaving Tea Party Patriots after having “virtually no influence in the leadership of the organization, and it has been that way for quite some time.”

“The board majority granted Jenny Beth Martin almost complete power over the day-to-day operations back in November of 2011, after a protracted fight in which I was complaining about the direction, operation (top-down) and finances of the organization,” Meckler wrote.

Yet the former national coordinator wouldn’t say the group is falling apart.

“I think that they serve a purpose and that they will continue to serve a purpose,” he told TheDC. “They’re a big organization with people who support them all across the country.”

He wrote in the email to the coordinators about his complaints that he “said virtually nothing about this publicly … because I’ve never intended for this to be a public dispute.”

Despite leaving the group he helped found, Meckler said he plans to stay involved in tea party politics. “I’ve had more speaking requests since I left than ever before.”

“It’s been a little bit distracting trying to fight the internal fight at TPP,” he said, “and now I’m able to go back and focus on the fight that I love, which is returning the country to self governing.”

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