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Part One introduced one of the two main contenders to the title of Tea Party, the Tea Party Express.  The creation of the elections consulting firm of Russo, Marsh, and Rogers, the Express has raised a large war chest largely from small donors.

If the Express raises questions about the role of political consultants and federal campaign finance laws, the other major Tea Party group, the Tea Party Patriots, raises questions about its founders and its ties to the Republican Party.

Tea Party Patriots

The Tea Party Patriots is ostensibly run by Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, the first from—guess where—Sacramento, California (home of RM+R) and the second from Woodstock, Georgia which is north of Atlanta. The Atlanta connection will become clearer in a minute.

The Patriots claim to be the real grassroots Tea Party, an impression supported by their web page which lists dozens of supposedly affiliated groups in states throughout the country, including 66 Tea Parties in Arizona and well over 100 in California, Florida and Georgia.

Although these lists are accompanied by web links, it is hard to know if they are “Potemkin village” sites that essentially link to nothing or what is their relationship to the Patriots. This impression is reinforced by the fact there is little information about these local affiliates which all have the Patriots web site banner. A random sampling of these sites in Georgia was revealing. Two listed no organizer and three members. Pickens County had three groups as did three versions with the name N. Gwinnett Thinkers. Numerous other counties and cities had two Tea Party sites.

My impression of the Patriots’ web page is that it is a social networking site for a wide variety of groups with Tea Party in their name. How many of them are really active and can be counted on in a campaign is open to question.  You also wonder do they share a common platform that makes them a real political force.

Follow the Money

The Patriots’ money situation is equally interesting. The treasurer of the Patriots PAC is listed as Cabell Hobbs with an address at a McLean, Virginia post office box. Hobbs had a position in the Bush Administration as the scheduler at the White House Office of Political Affairs. The web site Irregular Times traced this same address to GOPAC and something called Project Virginia.  Hobbs is also listed as treasurer and the McLean address as the address for the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee and the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

The GOPAC association ought to ring a few bells for those with any sense of political history.  GOPAC was the creation of Delaware Governor Pete DuPont, but became a political force under Newt Gingrich (of Atlanta, Georgia) who used it to help engineer the Republican turnaround during Bill Clinton’s term. Its most recent chair is none other than Michael Steele, the present Republican National Committee head. With the Tea Party Patriots following the money leads squarely to the heart of the Republican Party with ties to GOPAC, the Republican Congressional election committees and Michael Steele, not to the grassroots.

Mark Meckler

Of the two “founders” of the Patriots, Meckler curiously he went to the same law school as the Express’ Sal Russo.  According to the Nevada County Union, Meckler

Was known locally mostly for creating Cafe Mekka, the popular Nevada City hangout he opened in 1993 and ran for five years with his wife, Patty.

Meckler sold the Cafe in 1997, briefly flirted with selling ski equipment and found his niche in–guess what–Internet marketing.  That eventually lead to a position as General Counsel/Chief Operating Officer of Unique Leads.  The company website highlights its services:

What makes us unique is that we’re a full service agency, able to offer services from campaign concept, to website and landing page creation. Or, if your technology and creative team is in-house, we’re happy to offer full campaign management, and leave the creative and technology component to you.

Determining what Unique Leads really does is difficult, but as near as I can determine it provides marketing campaign services–i.e. email lists–for affiliates. Frankly this is one step removed from a Ponzi scheme in that clients bring their lists with them which in turn are pooled with the lists of other clients.

As general counsel for Unique Leads Meckler wrote a legal column on Internet marketing for a site called Digital Moses. Google Meckler and DM and you can read about the legal issues of online marketing.  As TPM Muckraker has reported, Meckler then spun off a company called Opt-In Movement.  TPM reports Meckler has played down his association with Opt-In but you can still find him listed here as the main contact. A page on the Opt-In website shows work done for Rudolph Giuliani and the College Republicans, but looks as thin as the RM+R client base.

The most recent revelation about Meckler is that he was paid to organize a lobbying campaign for the Lincoln Club of Orange County, one of California’s biggest Republican organizations.  This has lead the Orange County Weekly to call him “the face of Tea Party hypocrisy.”

Meckler represents an interesting parallel to his fellow McGeorge Law School graduate Sal Russo, in that both have been on the fringes of the Republican Party and found salvation in the Tea Party, each focusing on their area of expertise.  There seems little doubt they have hijacked the Tea Party name for their own purposes.

The Martins

Jenny Beth Martin’s story of her rise from bankruptcy and foreclosure to Tea Party luminary is told in the documentary Tea Party which has been one of the movement’s more powerful recruiting tools. That documentary has ties to former GOP House Majority leader Dick Armey.  According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Martin was a computer programmer for Home Depot while her husband Lee founded Indwell, a business that supplied temporary workers.

By 2008 Lee Martin had run up a debt of $680,000 when he filed for bankruptcy.  The Martins also owed the IRS $510,000 in unpaid taxes. In short it appears that the Martins did not think they needed to pay taxes or their debts! Jenny Beth Martin has explained this was caused by the recession and a bad business partner, but the Martins have yet to file any charges against the partner. By any standards the amount of the debt and the back taxes suggest either total incompetence or a desire to pay neither.

Lee Martin’s company, Indwell, is even more mysterious.  Some Christians might recognize the name which comes from the notion that the Holy Spirit actually dwells in true believer.  Whether that was behind the choice of the company name is not mentioned by any of its founders. Contrary to many press reports, Lee Martin did not found Indwell, but was a cofounder along with Robert Mendez and Ryan Brown.  At some point Brown left the company and was replaced by Surinder Singh. One online profile lists Indwell as being established in 1999 and having 20-49 employees and revenues of $1-2.5 million.  Even more interesting for a Tea Party member is that in 2001 Indwell received $68,000 in federal assistanceLee Martin’s LinkedIn profile states:

I’ve brought in OVER $200 MILLION in revenue to my companies in a short time.

That only adds to the mystery of the huge debt.

Judging by that profile and Martin’s current job as “Computer Repair Guy at Computer Health Spa” his main expertise is in networking and other computer work–just the person to help set up a web site like the Patriots.  But here is the real clincher, a 2001 story on Indwell reported that its main business niche was in finding temporary jobs for foreign workers. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle Indwell:

Indwell has strategically placed itself in position to fulfill the needs of several clients, while providing employment for non-English-speaking employees.

Lee Martin told the Chronicle:

We knew that we wanted to offer access to the work force that our clients wouldn’t really have without us. We work to bridge the language gap … get them in there, teach them how to do the job, and once they’re rolling we can kind of step back and watch it go. That’s worked out really well for us. And the clients where we’re applying that technique are loving it.

The article says Indwell had $6 million in profits that year.  I was unable to determine whether Indwell was supplying illegal aliens to businesses, but even if it was not it the fact that it supplied foreign workers seems grossly at odds with the Tea Party message.  Note particularly the language Martin used “get them there,” implying that the company actively sought out workers in their native countries, which means that they were non-citizens at the time Indwell recruited them.

Even more interesting is that contrary to national reports, Lee and Jenny Beth Martin have both been active in Republican politics.  Jennifer Martin contributed $500 to the Bush-Cheney Campaign in 2003 and is listed as “Indwell Corporation/Management.” In 2008 Lee Martin served as Chairperson of the campaign committee for Georgia homophobe Charlice Byrd. Jenny Beth Martin received over a thousand dollars from that campaign as a “political consultant.”  Byrd became notorious for a speech announcing a “grassroots” effort to oust professors from Georgia’s higher education system who taught courses in subjects like “queer theory.”

But that isn’t all of the Martin’s political misadventures. In 2006 Lee Martin also was involved in a lawsuit against Mary Wilhite, who lost a GOP primary by 35 votes that could have made her the first black Republican woman elected to the Georgia legislature.  That campaign was a particularly nasty one in which racist slurs including the “n” word were painted on Wilhite campaign signs.  No one has even been arrested for those crimes.

Lee Martin accused Wilhite of assaulting him when he tried to hand out literature.  According to reports either Martin or Wilhite called the other a “racist” and a “fat pig.”  No one in the media has asked Jenny Beth Martin to explain her support for a homophobic candidate or her husband’s assault case on a black woman running for the Georgia legislature.  The case apparently never came to trial because I can find no records of it.

If you wonder what working for Indwell was like here is one email post, admittedly a single source with no corroboration, but interesting for its attitude.

There is a company called Indwell, a company that contracts with other industries to provide them basically with minimum wage workers.  I know at least two black females with children who are among the workers. These two have no cars, they take the bus. When they come Indwell, they have to report early and then bused on their own bus to the job location. On such location is two hour drive and workers have to pay four dollars each way for the ride. Now, let us add the hours. Two hours round trip, plus four hour roundtrip plus eight hours of work make fourteen hours. Only seven and half hours are accounted for labor at $6.50 per hour. This is slavery with choice!! Many illegal aliens are among the workers. It is easy to see that their presence is depressing wages and pushing many black Americans with not that high education out of the market.  In conclusion, sending illegal aliens back home makes good sense.

So welcome to the wacky world of the Tea Party Patriots whose cofounder is married to a man who piled up $600,000 in debt and owed half a million in back taxes. He founded a company whose main mission was to bring in foreign workers and was involved in an altercation with an African American political candidate.

The Feud

The Patriots versus the Express sounds like a Sunday NFL game and in many ways the feud between the two organizations resembles a football mud bowl without referees. The Patriots have jumped on the RM+R connection to label the Express of being nothing more than a creation of a PR firm.

Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, has said:

We’ve worked hard to distance ourselves from the Tea Party Express because of their close affiliation with the Republican Party, the Republican establishment and their PAC. When people donate to Tea Party Express, they think that they are donating to a tea party, because they don’t read the fine print at the bottom of their e-mails that says it is a PAC.

Allow me a brief tangent. Dooley is another interesting character. She is affiliated with something called Blackstar Publications, which has a variety of websites including Natasha Murderoff, Dweller Among the Bones and a Debbie Dooley web site.  The Murderoff site exists only as a page touting a sexy-looking woman who is an “international assassin,” hardly the stuff of conservative values.  The Blackstar site has the following picture:

Yes, fellow Tea Party members, this is the stuff your so-called spokesperson is peddling over the Internet.

The real story behind both the Patriots and the Express is that the reason they hate each other so much is like warring hustlers, you don’t like someone taking over your territory.  RM+R seized on a movement and an FEC decision to help get candidates elected. The Patriots look to be a bit more complicated, with mainstream Republicans such as Gingrich, Armey and that suspicious McLean address hovering in the background of what appears to largely be a website.

This makes the Patriots a little more interesting because people are beginning to zero in on whether they are actually an independent movement or a creature of the Republican Party. That would have large implications for the ability of the Patriots to get involved in elections.

The Role of Faux News

If you wonder how someone like Martin can become an overnight media star, you have heard this story before, only you forgot it. Back in the 2008 election Faux created a media star out of a former hypnotherapist and diet counselor named Christi Adkins. Allied with former Internet porn site developer Peter Boykin and small-time media consultant Burke Allen, the three created Clintons4McCain, a web site and organization of supposed disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters who out of anger over the results of the Democratic Convention decided to vote for John McCain.

Allen happened to own two small West Virginia stations that aired Faux programming. Next thing you know Christi Adkins is all over Faux as a “spokesperson” for angry Clinton supporters who were going to vote against Barack Obama. In a piece I wrote that year detailing this sordid tale, I termed it the “Swift Boating of Barack Obama.”

Now guess who is making media stars of the Tea Party Patriots and Jenny Beth Martin? The scenario even resembles Clintons4McCain with the outraged female spokesperson, the media consultants (Meckler and Adkins) and even someone who manages questionable Internet sites.

The sad part about this tale, as it was with Clintons4McCain, is first how Faux finds such questionable spokespeople. Are they that hungry for news sources that trash the Democrats that they will take anyone? The second sad part is how many people in the mainstream media bought the story.  Faux has long ago forfeited any right to be termed an exercise in objective journalism, but that others in the mainstream media would get sucked into the scam is just plain lazy reporting.

As if this isn’t enough to set your head spinning there is yet another Tea Party to track.

The Tea Party Caucus

The Caucus was announced by none other than Michelle Bachmann, a politician with a reputation for being loose cannon. Like Sarah Palin Bachmann has proclaimed her allegiance to the Tea Party. Just which Tea Party is open to question. Palin, for example, supported Express candidate Young in the Alaska Republican Senatorial primary, raising the ire of the Patriots.  Palin probably has enough star power to ride out the feud, but Bachmann is another story.

According to the New York Times, her move to form a Tea Party Caucus caught Republican leaders by surprise, something Bachmann has been known to do on occasion. You can understand why this would make GOP leaders nervous because it injects the Republicans in Congress into the middle of the battle between the Patriots and the Express. Which Tea Party is the Caucus tied to?

It turns out neither. Both the Express and the Patriots have backed away from endorsing the Caucus and the Caucus has not taken sides in the feud.  However, many members of the Caucus have endorsed the Gingrich-like Patriots’ “Contract from America.” Should you wonder about the coziness between the Patriots, GOPAC and Gingrich this should help erase a few doubts.

The connection between the Caucus and GOPAC is intriguing, but as with much else relating to the Tea Party this one has an even more interesting back story. Bachmann finds herself in a difficult reelection fight, so serving as head of the Caucus helps to inflate her status. But the real story is the contributions to the Caucus, which are largely from health professionals, real estate firms and oil and gas companies—three of America’s favorite villains.

Here the circle begins to close a bit on the Tea Party—at least the Patriots. Remember it was the Tea Party that organized those rallies against what they termed ObamaCare, so it should be no surprise that health care companies should be behind the Tea Party Caucus. My guess is the circumstantial evidence is strong that the health care companies helped to bankroll some of those protests, especially the ones flying in people who were not local residents.

Real estate firms were just as adamantly opposed to Obama’s new financial regulation bill as health companies were to the new health care bill. We all know what has gone down with oil and gas companies in the past six months. Bachmann has made herself the friend of these companies and in the process raised more than four million dollars from them. Should she win reelection it will be an affirmation that the more you do things like defend BP and do exactly what the insurance companies want, it will bring you in a huge amount of campaign contributions.  In short, the Tea Party Caucus is the creation of the very same big corporations that the so-called Tea Party rails against.

What has also not been commented on is how the Tea Party movement has the potential to throw a wrench into federal campaign finance. Contributors can write checks to both the Tea Party and the Republican Party (care of Cabell Hobbs of McLean, Virginia) and currently not violate any campaign finance laws. RM+R  also seems to have grasped this in their insurgency campaigns. If GOPAC is really pulling the strings for the Patriots it further circumvents campaign finance laws since we have money for at least three GOP organizations all flowing to the same treasurer at the same address.

The Danger and the Opportunity

The questions about both the Express and the Patriots do not diminish in any way the very real anger and concerns of the many Americans who are genuinely invested in the Tea Party movement.  They are those small donors to the Express and some of those organizational websites listed on the Patriots’ webpage. They are also a warning to both parties of genuine grassroots anger about the way people outside the Beltway perceive of their government.

Polls have shown that those who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters are not merely Republicans but also Independents and Democrats.  They are linked by a belief that somehow government no longer listens to them but instead to the voices of corporate and special interest lobbyists.  They are also frankly scared about the current economic crisis.  Right now if there is a Tea Party movement at all it resembles the proverbial herd of cats, but those cats could very easily turn into tigers. That is the danger lurking behind the Tea Party.

The real issue will be how much their anger and cynicism will increase as they learn they have been had yet again by the likes of the Express and the Patriots. What will they do when they find out the Patriots’ national spokesperson is married to someone whose career was built around importing foreign workers or that the Express is the creature of a consulting company?

I have been writing for almost two years now that the Obama administration made a huge mistake by going after health care rather than the economy as its first big initiative. Yes, there was the stimulus bill, but even the Administration admits that was a stopgap measure. Now the administration is paying for that neglect.

Fortunately in the last few weeks Barack Obama seems to again have found his voice just in time for November. What promises to make things interesting is his recent announcement that he will not back off from his plan to rescind the Bush tax cuts for the rich. This is the first real gauntlet Obama has thrown down to the Republicans that has the potential to redefine the November election. The big question mark will be IF a Democratic Party still rotten with Blue Dogs and Democratic Leadership Council types will follow the President’s lead or if they will continue the same Republican Lite approach that has been a disaster for them.

Where Obama’s challenge has the most promise is in its potential to smoke out the Express, the Patriots and the Caucus as GOP creations. The Express and the Patriots will now have to declare whether they are for providing federal gifts to the rich or against them, especially since they will increase an already dangerous deficit. A Tea Party that supports the equivalent of America’s aristocrats has little relationship to those who dumped tea in Boston Harbor to protest a tax that was intended to enrich the British aristocracy.

With the Obama challenge we will now get to see the real Tea Party. We also have a genuine policy difference between the two parties that could make November a real horse race. At stake is whether America shall follow the top-down economic philosophy behind the tax cuts or the bottom up philosophy of Barack Obama.  As for the Tea Part is it for top down or bottom up?

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