As some of us suspected, right-wing operatives who have seized the “tea party” mantle are raising gobs of money from donors – and largely spending it on themselves. That is the nub of The Post’s blockbuster report:
Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates, according to the analysis, which was based on campaign finance data provided by the Sunlight Foundation. . . . Roughly half of the money — nearly $18 million — has gone to pay for fundraising and direct mail, largely provided by Washington-area firms. Meanwhile, tea party leaders and their family members have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees, while their groups have doled out large sums for airfare, a retirement plan and even interior decorating. . . . Three well-known groups — the Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express and the Madison Project — have spent 5 percent or less of their money directly on election-related activity during this election cycle. Two other prominent tea party groups, the Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks, have devoted about 40 percent of their money to direct candidate support such as ads and yard signs.
Experts on non-profits generally agree that most money taken in should go out to the intended recipients. One charitable watchdog found in 2011 that “only 3.5 percent of all Form 990 filers reported spending more than 70 percent of their budget on overhead expenses. The vast majority of nonprofits do not spend unreasonable amounts of fundraising, and their fundraising investments can yield considerable results for their mission and programs.” The Standards of Excellence for nonprofits tells organizations:
A nonprofit’s fundraising costs should be reasonable over time. On average, over a five (5) year period, a nonprofit should realize revenue from fundraising and other development activities that are at least three times the amount spent on conducting them. Organizations whose fundraising ratio is less than 3:1 should demonstrate that they are making steady progress toward achieving this goal, or should be able to justify why a 3:1 ratio is not appropriate for the individual organization.
These PAC’s fall well short of that. Republicans who have been targeted as sell-outs by these groups have every right to be infuriated. They’ve been used to generate huge money – for the PAC leaders. It is good business to harangue mainstream Republicans, fundraise off of the “sell outs” and then reap the rewards. The notion that these groups are helping the GOP or the country is preposterous. A senior GOP aide told Right Turn. “It seems pretty clear that these so-called Tea Party leaders are more interested in lining their own pockets than living by the values and principles of the millions of Americans who have donated their hard-earned dollars to support the conservative cause.”
Imagine the reaction if a non-profit hospital took in millions and spend only a fraction on patient care. Consider, for example, if Red Cross solicited millions for disaster relief and spent less than 10 percent for the beneficiaries it claimed to help. Such organizations would be condemned as a racket, its leadership dumped and refunds demanded by generous donors who were snookered.
A former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee told me, “Groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund are modern-day snake oil salesman who sell purity for profit and have been scamming unsuspecting conservatives around the country.” Articulating what this blog and other critics of these groups have been saying for some time, he argued, “They operate under the belief that the weaker the Republican Party is, the more powerful they are and they don’t care whether Republicans win back a Senate majority so long as they can keep making money and growing their own power.” Nor has this been a “no harm, no foul” undertaking: These groups have pushed forward unelectable nominees in at least five winnable Senate seats (Delaware, Colorado, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana) in the last two election cycles. Those candidates all lost, but apparently the PAC operators did very well for themselves.
It will be interesting to see if rabid rightwing blogs and high-powered talk show hosts which often team up with these groups – carrying their message, giving free media time, interviewing the groups’ leaders, amplifying their attacks against incumbent Republicans — express outrage and call for an end to the fleecing of donors. After all, it is their readers and listeners who have been ripped off. And will Jim DeMint, who founded the Senate Conservatives Fund and now heads the Heritage Foundation also denounce these practices? Silence would speak volumes.
It is noteworthy that earlier in the year Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed these groups, explaining he loved the real voters who made up the “tea party” but not the people who were running these PAC’s. (A spokesman for McConnell did not respond to my inquiry about The Post’s report.) “What they do is mislead their donors into believing the reason that we can’t get as good an outcome as we’d like to get is not because of a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president, but because Republicans are insufficiently committed to the cause—which is utter nonsense,” he said last December. Little did he know how lucrative it can be to con the faithful.