Several new political action committees hope to harness the tea party movement's vigor and transform it into a conservative answer to the liberal fundraising juggernaut of MoveOn.org.
The movement has shown its strength with nationwide demonstrations against the Democrats’ healthcare reform bill, but it remains to be seen whether the newly engaged anti-tax, anti-spending activists will open their wallets with the same enthusiasm.
“If the tea party movement is only about doing protests, going out having our rallies, then the movement has failed,” said Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, who acknowledges that movement participants differ over whether raising money for candidates is appropriate. “The only way the Tea Party movement is going to be successful in 2010 is if we are able to get out there and elect good officeholders to replace the bad ones we have in there.”
The movement will not succeed in electing candidates who favor its aims without a good fundraising strategy, Phillips said.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s Take Back America PAC, which his FreedomWorks group is launching this week, plans to back candidates in 2010 who believe in governmental restraint and respect for individual liberty. It plans to kick the electoral cycle off with an e-mail to FreedomWorks’ 415,000 online members.
Armey said his new PAC hopes to remind the Republican Party that backing candidates who believe in those goals results in electoral victories.
“If they don’t do that, they will probably get what I call ‘gentle reminders’ from all the grass-roots activists in their districts that they need to be more like Reagan Republicans, or they can expect that that they might lose their own primary,” Armey told Politico.
The PAC plans to support conservative candidates such as Marco Rubio in Florida and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. It also plans to examine supporting Rand Paul’s run to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Jim Bunning in Kentucky and the eventual challengers to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada and Sen. Chris Dodd in Connecticut.
The former House majority leader is not alone trying to cash in on the tea party movement’s newly minted political capital.
Liberty First PAC, early Tea Party organizer Eric Odom is sponsoring, launched last week. The tea party-linked American Majority plans to unveil its new PAC, GrassRootsPAC, next year. The California-based Our Country Deserves Better PAC-TeaPartyExpress.org added the latter half of its name in October after drawing in large amounts of money during its cross-country bus tour.
The PACs' sudden appearance has increased Democratic hopes of a Republican civil war that could lessen the affect of the midterms on their projected losses, but Armey dismissed such talk.
Movement observer Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative blog RedState.com, expressed skepticism about the number of PACs that have emerged in recent weeks.
“It seems like there are so many groups all of the sudden; I’m having trouble keeping track of who’s who,” Erickson told Politico.
Although Erickson is advising GrassRootsPAC, he suggested that many of its would-be donors probably would give their money to more established conservative groups such as Club for Growth and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund.
“I am going to sit back and watch these groups shape up and not advise anyone to give them money until they’ve actually gone through an election cycle,” Erickson said.
DeMint’s PAC and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s fundraising group, SarahPAC, have benefited from their favorable image among movement participants. Records show the Senate Conservatives Fund raised $1.1 million through October, but Politico reported that quantifying the movement’s direct impact on SarahPAC could prove more difficult.
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