- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Organizers behind one of the largest “tea party” activist groups said Tuesday they have received a $1 million commitment to help grass-roots organizations for the midterm elections and said they were ready to take up President Obama’s challenge to offer specifics on fixing the nation’s problems.

The Tea Party Patriots — which claims connections to more than 2,800 smaller groups — will receive the money through an anonymous donation and will distribute the money by Oct. 4, backers said.

Though Tea Party Patriots organizers said the grants are to help those smaller groups improve their organizational efforts during the final weeks of the general election, the money cannot be used to endorse a candidate.

The only other restriction is that the money must be used to further the movement’s core tenets of limited government, fiscal responsibility and free markets.

“This is to help groups on the ground become more efficient, not tell them what to do,” Mark Meckler, the Tea Party Patriots’ co-founder and national coordinator, said at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.

He said the group also is responding to President Obama’s call Monday for members of the movement to identify specifically what they would do to help revive the economy and create more jobs.

In a televised town-hall meeting on CNBC on Monday, Mr. Obama acknowledged the legitimate concerns of tea party activists, but added, “The challenge for the tea party movement is to identify specifically what would you do.”

“It’s not enough just to say, ‘Get control of spending,’” Mr. Obama said.

Jenny Beth Martin, the Tea Party Patriots’ other co-founder and national coordinator, said the group is “happy to take [Mr. Obama] up on that.”

Mr. Meckler said the group now has a feature on its website where visitors can post solutions that will be forwarded to the White House.

“So the president can read them by his bedside at night,” Mr. Meckler explained.

The fact that the donor requested anonymity prompted questions of the pair over the source of their funding and their adherence to campaign finance-disclosure laws. Considered a “social welfare” group and not a political action committee under federal laws, the Tea Party Patriots is not required to disclose its financial backers.

Mr. Meckler and Ms. Martin would only describe the donor as a male businessman and entrepreneur.

Mr. Meckler insisted that his group’s focus is on promoting fiscal conservatism. The group does not endorse candidates and the grant money cannot be used for endorsements. However, he acknowledged that grant recipients could include tea party groups that have already endorsed candidates.

Mr. Meckler and Ms. Martin also rebutted criticism that such a large donation from a single source would make the group more of a top-down operation, not a grass-roots movement.

They said most of the group’s donations come from small, individual donors who give roughly $80 each and that maintaining the million-dollar donor’s anonymity was part of the deal.

“Why take the money?” Mr. Meckler asked. “People are entitled to do that, and we’re allowed to accept.”

Showing some of the tensions in the many-headed tea party movement, Mr. Meckler took a swipe at the Tea Party Express, another major group in the movement whose funding was widely credited in helping fuel upsets by fiscal conservative challengers in the Alaska and Delaware GOP Senate primaries.

The Tea Party Express, a group formed by longtime California GOP consultant Sal Russo, has raised more than $5 million and financed about $2 million in advertising to help candidates, according to the Associated Press.

“We’re going to favor the candidates we supported in the primary,” Mr. Russo told the AP. “But we’re not limited to that. We’ll try to help make a difference.”

But Mr. Meckler dismissed the Tea Party Express and other tea party activist groups as “fake.”

“Our offices are where we find a place to plug our laptops into the wall,” Mr. Meckler said. He said his group is not run by “a small elite leadership team based out of a Republican consulting firm in Sacramento. We’re the opposite of that.”

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