Brown never heard Beck’s reply. He was too busy listening to his own answer. “It was a real aha moment,” he says. He would start his own tea party group, We the People of the Republic, to fight for personal liberty and small government. They’d do it the old-fashioned way — albeit with new tools, such as Facebook and Meetup — with no money, no fancy offices, no politicians in their pockets.
Three years later, one of the tea party heroes they worked to elect, Republican Scott Walker, is governor of Wisconsin, and Walker has done what few other tea-party-supported politicians have managed — making a big show of whacking government spending, stripping state workers of collective-bargaining rights and squaring off against Democrats in a no-compromises battle stance. For the first time, Brown, a square-jawed 27-year-old with a radio host’s booming voice, could taste victory.
But Walker’s initiatives over the past year set off a firestorm of protest, drawing the nation’s eyes to Madison, the state capital where public employees and tens of thousands of supporters launched a recall petition against the governor. A million signatures later, a recall election is expected to be held June 5.
Millions of dollars are pouring into Wisconsin from wealthy conservatives nationwide, and labor unions are preparing to pump resources into the campaign of whichever Democrat faces off against Walker. (A primary in early May will determine that.)
Those millions are for TV ads, mostly — more than $700,000 already from one group, Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by David and Charles Koch, the ubiquitous funders of conservative causes. But that’s not how Brown and the 60 or so folks who join him for dinner meetings do business. Along with another small tea party group, the GrandSons of Liberty, We the People organized thousands of volunteers to inspect the 1 million signatures that forced the recall vote.
The budget for Brown’s Verify the Recall campaign was $15,000, raised from donations of $3, $10 and $20 from Wisconsinites.
“All those millions?” Brown says. “Why is it necessary? We got our message out to every corner of the state, no problem, for $15,000. People hear about big unions busing people in or, on our side, the Koch brothers sending in big money. It’s all part of the game to them. But it’s not a game to us.”