Once the source of strength for the Tea Party Patriots, the number of local affiliated groups has plummeted by nearly 90 percent according to new research by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR).
At its peak, Tea Party Patriots claimed to have more than 3,500 local affiliated groups. Tea Party Patriots leaders have repeatedly used the large number of local chapters as a key selling point, as well as a way to differentiate their group from other national factions. In fact, in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs on February 27, 2014, the group’s president, Jenny Beth Martin, stated that “Tea Party Patriots is guided by and empowers more than 3,000 local grass roots organizations.”
The Tea Party Patriots claims to provide an up-to-date, accurate listing of those local chapters on their website, "We are constantly updating this information regarding our local groups around the country. Be assured that we are working to correct any outdated or incorrect information."
The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights has compiled a complete listing of all the local chapters listed on the Tea Party Patriots website. The number is substantially lower than claimed by the Tea Party Patriots. As of July 7, 2014, there were just 370 local Tea Party groups listed, a decrease of 89.45% from the high and 87.66% lower than Martin’s claim to Congress.
Tea Party Patriots Local Affiliated Groups – July 2014
Membership in Tea Party Patriots has also ground to a halt. There are currently 97,977 members of the group’s social networking site, up just 162 from this time last year – a meager 0.16% increase. On Facebook, the number of “likes” of the organization also slowed. Currently, Tea Party Patriots has 1,372,137 Facebook likes, a 14.92% increase from 1,193,915 at this point last year.
As IREHR noted previously, one of the most significant reasons for this change has been the transformation of Tea Party Patriots under Jenny Beth Martin’s control. After wresting the group away from co-founder Mark Meckler and the rest of the grassroots supporters on the board of directors in 2012, Martin turned her back on the grassroots and embraced the Beltway consultant class many Tea Partiers railed against.
Today, the outfit is largely a fundraising, candidate-backing machine.
According to the most recent IRS form 990 available from Tea Party Patriots, Inc. for the June 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013 period, the group’s total receipts for the period were a staggering $19,703,978 (see form below for full details). Nearly half of that money went back into fundraising. According to the 990, the group had $8,797,675 in listed fundraising expenses. That’s nearly 45 percent of the group’s budget. They hired two different high-powered conservative (establishment) fundraising firms, an online marketing firm, two direct mail outfits, four different telemarketing operations, and more than a dozen other independent contractors of $100,000 or more during the period. The IRS documents also show that more money is being spent on fundraising than on programmatic work.
On the electoral side, in January 2013 the group launched a super PAC, the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund. Like the group’s 501(c)4, the Super PAC raised a substantial amount of money, but very little of that has gone to the grassroots or to candidates. As the Washington Post noted in April, “the $7.4 million that the Georgia-based group’s super PAC has spent since the beginning of 2013, just $184,505 has gone to boost candidates. Three-quarters of the spending by the Citizens Fund — $5.5 million — has been devoted to fundraising and direct mail. In addition, Tea Party President Jenny Beth Martin, who runs the super PAC, has been receiving $15,000 monthly consulting fees.”
Tea Party Patriots continues to hound members with calls, mailings, and emails asking for money. The constant fundraising barrage left the group with a huge pile of cash, but it sapped the grassroots energy the group once relied upon.
Does this mean that the Tea Party is dead? Not exactly.
While some of those early local Tea Party chapters are now gone, a number of the groups that were once aligned with TPP are now aligned with FreedomWorks or another national faction.
Others have become untethered from the national factions entirely, growing more militant and more interested in activity outside electoral arena. See the Bundy standoff in Nevada, the angry blockade of buses containing migrant children and families in California last week, and yesterday’s announcement that armed groups were heading to the border to “stop the invasion” as signs of this surging militancy.
Tea Party Patriots, Inc. IRS Form 990 for June 1, 2012 – May 31, 2013