How Much Do Tea Party Groups Spend on Elections?
Whatever their overhead, tea-party-aligned groups are spending tens of millions collectively, sometimes with little or no board oversight. Such groups tend to operate multiple fundraising entities, simultaneously pulling in checks for a 501(c)(3) charity, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group, a conventional political action committee subject to contribution limits and an unrestricted super PAC. Public records filed with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission revealed some unusual expenditures.
Club for Growth President Chris Chocola earned $510,786, from mid-2012 to mid-2013, tax records for the group’s advocacy arm show, pushing his election-cycle earnings to more than $1 million. Club spokesman Barney Keller called that “a pretty good deal,” given that U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue earns $5.5 million a year. “I would argue we have exactly the same effect on policy as the chamber does,” Keller said.
The Tea Party Express PAC raised $10 million in the 2012 cycle, more than three-quarters of it from donations of less than $200. But the group made only $259,500 in campaign contributions and $686,124 in independent campaign expenditures in that election, public records show. In the meantime, one of its lead organizers, political consultant Sal Russo, handled the bulk of the group’s fundraising, travel, consulting, direct mail and ad production — earning his California consulting firm Russo Marsh & Associates a cool $2.3 million, according to Political MoneyLine.
FreedomWorks paid its president and CEO, Matt Kibbe, $470,000 in 2012, or about $940,000 for the full election cycle. The group’s advocacy arm pulled in $15 million in 2012, according to its most recent tax disclosures, and spent $5 million on “advertising and promotion,” $1.4 million on “office expenses,” $1.3 million on “conferences, conventions and meetings,” and $74,285 in severance to a departing employee. A FreedomWorks board member also reportedly paid former House Majority Leader Dick Armey an $8 million settlement following his departure as chairman amid a FreedomWorks shakeup.
The Madison Project, a conservative PAC that has spent $51,884 opposing McConnell, spent $1.8 million in the 2012 election cycle. Some $97,500 of that was donated to candidates, FEC records show. But still more went to pay the group’s top organizers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Chairman and ex-Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., earned $66,540, according to the CRP, while his son, political director Drew Ryun, made $67,932.