Let us first define the various types of organizations that can exist.
501(c ) (3) —these are organizations set up for charitable, education, etc., service to a community. They are tax exempt (pay no tax on their income) and donations are tax deductible for donor. These groups cannot take any part in election campaigns and may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities.
501 (c ) (4) —these organizations are tax exempt (pay no tax on their income) but donations are NOT tax deductible for donor. These groups can do everything a ( c) (3) can do plus they are capable of extensive lobbying; they can advocate for and against legislation. I think NumbersUSA is an example of this kind of group.
Political Action Committees (PACs) —these groups can endorse political candidates and raise money to defeat or elect candidates. They can receive up to $5000 per years from an individual or another PAC. They can give up to $5000 per election cycle to a candidate committee. They can give up to $15,000 per year to any National Party committee. Generally, these groups also do not pay taxes on their income but, of course, donations are not tax deductible for donors.
527 Organizations —these groups are non-profits and they can help elucidate the issues surrounding a candidacy or may lobby for or against legislation. Swiftboat Veterans and Moveon.org are examples of these. 527’s are generally tax exempt (do not pay tax on their income) but, of course, are not tax deductible for donors.
Some groups, like FreedomWorks and the NRA, encompass all four types of groups. Each part of the organization, in that case, has to be clearly separate and segregated in terms of board of directors, income, spending, bookkeeping, etc.
Most Americans who consider themselves part of the tea party movement have only a vague awareness of the various national tea party groups that have taken form since the movement begin. We get notices of various local rallies and we go to make our voices heard. We do not go as members or adherents of any one particular tea party Group. Today, Liberty Belle's father and I went to the pro 10th Amendment Rally in Olympia and visited the offices of our state legislators. We weren’t very interested in which group or groups sponsored the rally. We just showed up to work.
In fact, however, several different groups DO exist and, during the past few months, we have witnessed some growing pains among the groups. There are disagreements, rivalries and turf battles taking place over issues that go to the essence of the movement’s purpose and strategies as well as more trivial rivalries.
The reality is that there is room for all types of tea party groups. It is a movement, not one definitive group with a definitive leader. A spokesman for FreedomWorks has said,
One thing that’s clear is that anyone who says they own the tea party movement is going to get run over because no one owns the movement.
How right he is. Back on Presidents’ Day, February 16, 2009, when scores of citizens joined our daughter at Westlake Park to tell President Obama “Do not sign off on Porkulus”, we assembled as individuals seeking redress from our government. We are still individuals, but because we have a common purpose, it is natural for the movement to begin to organize itself.
To help you with figuring out who is who and which group is which, I am summarizing basic information on the most important national groups (in no particular order) at the present time:
Tea Party Patriots
This is a non-partisan, non-profit, umbrella coalition of hundreds of local tea parties and individuals. TPP states it’s mission is to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with their core values. TPP. operates with a board of directors. Politico reports that in December, TPP held a conference call with organizers across the country to discuss plans to form its own Political Action Committee (PAC).
American Liberty Alliance
This is a for-profit company co-owned by Eric Odom who was one of the early tea party organizers. They state their objective is to provide a place of collaboration for Free Market movements, On their web site they state they are not a non-profit group and that donations are considered gifts and are not tax deductible. Odom has just founded Liberty First PAC to raise money to fund congressional challengers embodying the movement’s principles.
Tea Party Express.org (Our Country Deserves Better PAC)
This is a PAC, The Tea Party Express part of OCDB has conducted publicized bus tours with tea party rallies across the country, one tour ending at the 9/12 March on Washington DC, for which they paid funds to the PAC officials, the consulting firm that runs the PAC and to the activists who traveled on the Express. The PAC’s coordinator said its goal “is to support conservative candidates for Congress in 2010 and a conservative presidential candidate in 2012.” They are currently endorsing Scott Brown in Mass. And asking for donations for his Senate race. Question: why not just advise donors to go directly to his campaign website and donate there?
Tea Party Nation
This is a for-profit company that runs a networking website for activists and has planned what is billed as the “First National Tea Party Convention.” The TPN states the three-day convention in February is aimed at bringing the Tea Party Movement leaders together from around the nation for panel discussions, training, networking, etc. Sarah Palin and Congresswoman Michele Bachman are scheduled to speak. The TPN president explains that his group is also hoping to have a profit from the event that can be funneled back into conservative causes through a 527 group it plans to set up to get involved in campaigns. (Our daughter has been invited appear as a panelist to discuss the future of the tea party movement, which would appear to be a timely and important topic.)
There are several other established and well-funded Washington-based conservative groups that have gotten most of their funds from big donors. In recent months they’ve helped facilitate and organize aspects of the tea party movement. These groups are:
A non-profit conservative organization. It incorporates a 501 (c ) (3); a 501 (c) (4); a 527; and state PACS. FreedomWorks has recently launched Take Back America PAC.
Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation
Americans for Prosperity, a section 501(c)(4) organization under the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions or gifts to AFP are not tax deductible.These groups are two separate entities with their own governing boards. Each is a national organization based in Washington, D.C., with staff on the ground in state chapters across the nation. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. AFP is an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels.
Americans for Limited Government
A section 501(c)(4) organization and contributions are not tax deductible. Per their web site: The time is ripe for an independent, nonpartisan political movement that fights for hardworking taxpayers against the special interests that continually push for big government nationwide. GetLiberty.org, a project of Americans for Limited Government, gives you the resources to stand up against the tyrannical government.
A recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. As such, all contributions including bequests, devises, transfers and gifts are tax deductible. The group describes itself as follows: At American Majority, we believe that change must begin at the local level, through engaged citizens effectively implementing freedom. We believe that individual liberty is achieved through limited government and free markets. We believe in lowering the barrier to entry for citizen participation in our republic. By training candidates and activists to be effective today, we are enhancing America's tomorrow. American Majority has been endorsed by the editor of Redstate blog. American Majority may be establishing a PAC called GrassRootPAC.
There may be other groups but these are some of the primary ones at present.
The important point to remember is the following one that is articulated on the web site of the Chicago Tea Party:
We have no Generals. We are all rapid response artillery specialists who can move at a moment’s notice to destroy big spending targets.
Now Ma Liberty Belle and myself do not claim to know everything about everything. This was only meant to be a starting point for other tea partiers to look into the organizations themselves. I think that the more informed we can be, the better choices we can all make.
My opinion right now is this: any group that wants to use "Tea Party" in their name or description MUST BE TOTALLY transparent, upfront, and honest about where the money is going.
As of right now I don't instinctively have a problem with some groups acting as PAC's or 527's - I understand the need for these types of organizations - but I do have a problem with groups that are not upfront with the regular, everyday people that are donating their hard-earned dollars to the cause.
You see, some people might want to do donate to a PAC, while others will want to donate to a non-profit, while others may want to donate directly to candidates. The point is that it is up to each individual to decide where his or her money should go. Unfortunately, there has not been enough transparency with some of the groups. That doesn't necessarily mean they're doing nefarious things with the donations, but they haven't been honest and open and if the Tea Party name means anything to anyone, it must consistently operate with full openness, transparency, and honesty.
Being upfront about the structure of your organization and the destination of donations means a heck of a lot more than just mentioning in a news article every once in a while that your organization is "x" and the money goes to "y." It means that you explain the structure and use of money in every single email, newsletter, page on the website, solicitation for donations, etc.
My parents gave money to Tea Party Express during one of their tours because, based on the style of the emails TPE sent out, my mom thought that it was a bunch of ragtag citizens journeying across the country to rally the troops so to speak. She literally thought that her few dollars were going to gas money to get the bus to the next city. Little did she know it was going into a PAC's coffers. Again, we have no problem with the idea of PAC's. The problem arises when their emails completely, and I think deliberately, mislead many people like my mom into donating. They played on the assumptions and good will of many patriots. Now, had they been upfront about the money going to a PAC to support conservative candidates, she may have donated, she may not have, but at least the choice would have been up to her and my dad.
It may seem like I am picking on Tea Party Express, but it just happens to be the one we dealt with personally. My plea to all the groups is BE HONEST, and my warning to them is that if they are not totally and completely forthcoming then they risk the entire movement because the people that make up the tea parties will become cynical and distrustful. If this happens the movement will die and the lack of transparency will be the reason.
My invitation to contribute on a panel at Tea Party Nation's national convention was a difficult choice for me. I don't know enough about them, their structure, or their bookkeeping, and so of course I have questions. As always, I talk over tough decisions with my parents, and we came to the conclusion that if people are going to attend, then there exists an opportunity to discuss these issues. I accepted the invitation in the hope that I can impress upon the various groups, including the hosts, Tea Party Nation, that transparency and honesty are paramount to the advancement of our ideals and will be the primary cause of our success or our failure. Make no mistake, the tea party movement will fail if we fail to rise above the murkiness that currently presides over Washington D.C. and Olympia politics. The back room deals being made for ObamaCare are the most obvious example that come to mind. We must be better than that. I will go and I will try to convince people of this.
In summary, one of my goals is to contribute to a clarified architecture of our fast growing tea party movement. It is critical to the maintenance of our trust in each other, that organizations within the movement be completely transparent about what kind of group they are—for-profit, non-profit, PACs--and how they spend the money we donate.
I believe that if we sort this out then all of the groups could exist, each with a different purpose, and that those fingers could become a fist that effectively fights for the liberty of all Americans.