Following the defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana's GOP primary, the Tea Party Patriots were quick to claim partial credit for taking down the long-serving moderate. To underscore the group's clout (and push back against chatter about the movement's slow demise), TPP cofounder Jenny Beth Martin revealed to an interviewer that her organization's most recent IRS filing shows that TPP had raised more than $12 million. This impressive figure wasn't exactly proof of TPP's role in dispatching Lugar, but Martin's disclosure did raise a question: Where did all that money go?
The group's full IRS filing, obtained by Mother Jones, offers details on TPP's spending that may make conservative activists wonder about about TPP's fiscal responsibility. It covers the fiscal year ending in May 2011 and shows that TPP spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-priced political fundraisers (in one case paying a firm tens of thousands of dollars more than it was able to raise during the reporting period), shelled out more than a half-million dollars in travel expenses, and paid its once-volunteer leaders six-figure salaries.
Complaints about frivolous spending have plagued TPP since the 2010 midterm elections, when some activists accused Martin and fellow TPP co-founder Mark Meckler of hiring expensive consultants and racking up big travel tabs. Since then, local tea party activists have continuiously griped that the national group directs scant funding to its state-based network of grassroots organizations and that it has been poorly managing the contributions it raked in. .Advertise on MotherJones.com It takes money to make money, as the saying goes, but TPP's IRS filing—known as a 990—indicates that twice as much of its resources have gone toward fundraising than to actual program services. TPP spent $6.7 million on fundraising, about half its budget, which included $1.4 million in consulting fees paid to the Richard Norman Company, a direct mail and fundraising firm connected to many evangelical Christian groups. (Its owner, Richard Norman, is now TPP's national finance chair.) All told, TPP's filing indicates that it devoted only $3.4 million of the $12 million it raised to programs related to its mission.