Steve Klingaman

Steve Klingaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
January 01
Steve Klingaman is a nonprofit development consultant and nonfiction writer specializing in personal finance and public policy. His music reviews can be found at

Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 14, 2010 8:34AM

The Tea Party Express is Business As Usual

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Sal Russo, of Russo, Marsh & Associates

Sal Russo, of Russo, Marsh & Associates, overstates his case / Credit: 

The so-called Tea Party wouldn’t amount to much in this election season were it not for the surprising financial muscle behind it. The Tea Party Express is widely cited as one of the transformational campaign PACs playing this role.  But who are they really?

            Last December, TMPMuckraker outed The Tea Party Express PAC and its parent entity, Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB), as a projects spearheaded by Sal Russo and his Sacramento-based Russo, Marsh, and Associates, an old-school Republican PR firm.  The article pointed out that Russo’s own firm received the lion’s share of some $1.33 million in expenditures reported on under FEC rules last November.  This and similar reports raised some eyebrows at the time and even set off a tiff between the Tea Party Express and a rival group, the Tea Party Patriots.  Salon’s Justin Elliott did a nice piece last month offering an overview of the group, “What you need to know about the Tea Party Express.”  He highlighted the role the Express playing in the Christine O'Donnell and Joe Miller primary wins, a fact that has been widely reported since.

            The Center for Responsive Politics, through its website,, published a breakdown of the most recent Tea Party Express/ Our Country Deserves Better spending report, based on data released on September and October 13th.  The report reveals much about where the Tea Party Express’s true interests lie.  I don’t suppose it would surprise you that the Tea Party Express is really gloves-off Republican electoral politics as usual.  But would you have guessed that 40 percent of the PAC’s funding is devoted to offing Harry Reid—and Sharon Angle is likely little more than a handy tool?

Remember Gray Davis?

            So who are Russo, Marsh, and Associates? The firm’s associates and pals are a cadre that came together in 2003 around the successful campaign to impeach California Governor Gray Davis.  This pedigree qualifies them for the hidebound, deep-cover, dirty-politics-as-usual approach that goes right down the center lane of big-money Republican strategy—and not even that of the hard-core conservative wing.  Rather, this crowd recalls with gusto the era of their native son, Ronald Reagan.

            OCDB chair Howard Kaloogian, an old-school California pol, initiated the Grey Davis recall.  Chief Strategist Sal Russo is a Reagan-smitten neocon.  PAC Coordinator Joe Wierzbicki is a Davis recall alum, as is Director of Field Operations Tiffiny Ruegner, who is also a Prop 8 veteran and a mean-ass anti-Obama blogger in her spare time.  (Sample post:  “Who said it; Goebbels or Obama?”)

Amy Kremer, a former flight attendant and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, is little more than a cipher hired as a mouthpiece for the group after former head Mark Williams wrote his famous letter praising slavery from the point of view of “colored people.”  Though she has been cited as an emerging Tea Party leader in some quarters, she couldn’t spin her way out of a paper bag in a recent Washington Post blog feature.  She pulls down a salary in the low five figures as a “safe” nominal head of group that spews millions without taking its gloves off.

            What’s interesting about this group is their sworn devotion to the “cut off the head” strategy that characterized their Gray Davis offensive.  And that is what they are really about in this election cycle.  Their focus is the Senate. They want it back in Republican hands and they want Harry Reid’s head on a platter.  That is why 40% of the $2.5 million they spent (not counting the substantial money they are skimming to line their own pockets—remember these are Republicans, not Tea Partiers) went to defeating the Democratic majority leader.

            Their FEC report shows the group spent $613,407 on behalf of Sharron Angle and another $387,849 against Harry Reid, for a grand total of $1,001,256 invested in the Nevada Senate race.  Their secondary cause was Alaska.  They invested $603,903 on behalf of Alaska’s Joe Miller.  By contrast, the Christine O’Donnell race, where they invested a total of $248,623, seemed to be an afterthought.  If you add in the $347,670 they spent earlier in the year on Scott Brown in Massachusetts, you pretty much have their entire electoral agenda.

            The Tea Party Express is all about the Senate, and it’s all about Harry Reid.  It’s all about the wars between the Republicans and the Democrats and surrounding the emerging Tea Party candidates with enough money so that they come to clearly understand who calls the tune.  So how do you reckon with the rising tide of Tea Party politics if you are an old-school Reagan Republican?  You buy it, that’s how.


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The interesting thing about the tea party is that it expresses what a lot of people feel, but it's being represented by the wrong people who don't espouse the ideas that the tea party was originally arguing. It's fascinating to me because it didn't start out as an offshoot of the Republican Party, but because the Republicans didn't have anywhere else to turn, it became a mouthpiece very quickly. If you look at the origins, it was anti-government, but it wasn't all that anti-Obama. Its roots were in 2008 election, and somehow it got stolen by opportunists who destroyed its original message by linking with nutcases like Palin and O'Donnell. Or more appropriately, Palin and O'Donnell linked with it, forever cementing a message that it wasn't really trying to make.

The name itself was irony because it was never meant to be a party or have any links to parties.
They sicken me and I wonder if any of these people know that the Koch brothers with all that money are behind it.
Rated with hugs
I've talked with a few of the TPers, and they don't even know who the Koch Bros are, let alone that they're financing this "grass-roots" "revolt". It's revolting, all right.
SO glad to see this on the cover since the corporate takeover of our political process is not MSM news.
Smart and cogent! Thanks!!!
The conservative idea of unity is the elimination of dissent.

It’s too damn easy just reverse their slogans think about it and try to figure out which one is closer to the truth. With all that money they spend to buy the government you would think they would do a better job trying to indoctrinate us.

The scary thing is that too many people believe this crap without scrutiny.

Perhaps there is a more rational movement but those in power with the control of the media simply chose not to report on it. I'm not the only one that has seen some evidence of this. The reason the Mass Media doesn't report on it may be because they seem to have their own agenda which doesn't seem to involve covering the issues in an informative way.
Caracalla: I just have to say, I love this comment. You have many ideas compressed here:

"...the primal identification of the working class with the wealthy is so deeply engrained..."

So true!

And the "mommy" and "daddy" party. As funny as it is true.

I'm just following the money, which I believe is intrinsic to "getting it."

So why not? Because we're suckers mostly, that's why.

And the Tea Party impetus is, just as you say, primal: don't take money out of MY pocket to help anyone else via the government. When people are overwhelmed by change and bad news they revert to the fetal position. How else can you describe the position of a movement whose battle cry is, "Leave me alone!"?
These guys remind me of the behind the scenes Watergate criminals- slimy, immoral, sanctimonious, and 'acting in the country's best interests'! The Tea Party has been funded by several billionaires-who don't have the stones to admit it! R
Excellent and perceptive article and comments. Left-wing political junkies know and understand what is happening but we can only look on in helpless horror as the nightmare plays itself out. We are doomed.

White middle class Americans are in a mindless panic because of the unraveling of the political and economic status quo that has occurred over the past two years. A Black as president and the American free-enterprise (ordained by God) economic system in the toilet. It is a time to grab pitchforks and punish somebody - anybody. The Republican operatives understand that this ignorant fear driven mob can be led anywhere to do anything.
i wonder if this is simply a reaction to the similarity of the two factions of the american party. obama took over bush's civil unrights, the reps squashed single payer into insurance corporation subsidy, iraq fades out, afpakistan fades in.

it's really hard to hold on to your outriders when it's tweedledum vs tweedledee. i suppose the teaparty is just the correlate of ''
One interesting development is happening in West Virginia, where the Repub candidate for senate, Raese, feels so comfortable with the out-of-the-closet Rich People's Revolution (aka the Tea Party) that when asked where his fortune came from, he boasts "The old-fashioned way - I inherited it." That, from someone who wants to abolish minimum wage. In West Virginia. Yup, they think they are home free!
Whoa!!! Wait a minute. There is money in politics? When did that start? This is outrageous!
The Dems and Rpubs are all the same, just as Ralph Nader always said they were. They're there to enrich themselves as no one leaves Congress poor. The Wealthy Ruling Class which includes corporations and big banks, use their servants and whores in Congress, the media, Wall Street, etc. to create smokescreens such as pointless elections, to distract us from the rape and pillage going on, not only of our lives, but the planet....
The simple and plain truth about this so called Tea Party "movement" is that it is strictly a creation of the media. It has no real "grassroots" support except for a very limited number of socially and thus politically backward types.

The US ruling class today is facing its greatest and most profound existential crisis and its response is quite predictable: war and military aggression overseas in an attempt to regain through the use of aggression what it has lost in terms of overall influence.

The establishment of a military police state dictatorship of sorts is only indicative of the fact that these social parasites have run out of options.

$144 billion in bonuses for Wall Street executives while the rest of the country is going to hell in a handbasket shows what callous regard these parasites have for other human being not to mention their own fellow citizens.

The club of Wall Street billionaires if they were an independent nation would have the 47th largest GDP: this from a group of about 400 individuals.

Aren't we really in an analogous political and social position to the French in 1792?

Of course we are, and that fact is not lost on the power structure. In an effort to retain their right to use government as an instrument to further enrich themselves while driving everyone else on the planet (if that were possible which it isn't owing to the coming global fightback) into abject destitution the establishment of a national security police state along somewhat Orwellian lines is their only option.

Part and parcel to this response is the need to exploit the most reactionary and socially backward elements in the country in an effort to create a so-called movement which is really no movement at all but merely window dressing on already firmly established policies of war and repression and the loss of democratic rights for everyone except the millionaires and billionaires.

Germany was in a similar situation after the collapse of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and early 1930s.

Americans kid themselves into thinking that fascism can not and will not ever be able to raise its ugly head here in America.

That is exactly what is happening with this so-called Tea Party "movement". It is a bona fida fascist movement with a whole class of individuals who will fare not better that Hitler's victims did if there is not some sort of fightback soon to meet the challenge that we-the American working class-are currently being confronted with.

We need to act because the actions that are being carried out overseas in our name are a direct threat to our lives. The herd mentality is what the US ruling class expects from us but they will find out that WE THE PEOPLE are not a nation of sheep but rather a nation of lions who are about to roar.

Never give up hope because a better day is at hand, it just isn't to obvious right now.

Nevertheless there is a lot of reason to be hopeful. Everyday I see more and more people waking up to the new political reality and I can see from that that what we are all receiving right now is an education in the school of hard knocks as the oldtimers used to say.

The American people will all end of with Ph.D.s in a new kind of political science that will change the way that business gets done on this planet forever.

Everyone has a role to play in this revolution if only by helping in the educational process that wakes up our fellow citizens to the job and hand and what is required of us to reach that new promised land of our hearts greatest desire which is only the right to live together and be a free people not subjected to the brutal excesses of a social system in an advanced state of decay.
The question I want to know is why they are running such idiots? Are they setting these people up, do they actually share their idiotic beliefs or believe the public does, or are they fifth columnists out to destroy the whole Tea Party movement before it becomes a viable majority party (displacing the GOP)?
You called it absolutely right! What I find most amazing about the Tea Party is their unchecked ability to rail against the very things that give them viability....campaign financing, lack of transparency, outside influence. Did I mention the media? They're an insane faction of the same old bullshit they whine about. The Tea Party Pawns.
Great post!

Let's do what we can in the final days to the election and try to educate people. Write letters to your newspaper and members of Congress.