Looking at data on federally-organized political action committees and Section 527 groups that identify themselves as part of the “Tea Party” movement, we’ve discovered that such openly-disclosed grassroots groups have levels of activity too low to account for the highly visible “Tea Party” activity seen splayed across the national media. Indeed, most of them are nominally registered but show no activity at all. Above them all looms Republican Party’s “Tea Party” project, the Tea Party Express, which has collected and spent millions of dollars to shift the national discourse into criticism of the Democratic Party and support for Republican candidates.
But the federal level is not the only level at which politics is played in the United States. The USA is a collection of 50 states, each of which holds its own races for elected office. The National Institute on Money in State Politics helpfully manages a Follow The Money database that catalogs all contributions to candidates for state office. Could it be that the “Tea Party” movement has been upending politics by working at the grassroots to support candidates for state office?
Not in a disclosed manner, no. The NIMSP reports that only five “Tea Party” identified organizations — Texas Tea Party, Texas Tea Party PAC, Texas Tea Party Republican Women, Richmond Tea Party LLC, Mansfield North Central Ohio Tea Party Association — have made contributions to candidates for state political office in 2008, 2009 and 2010. These groups have donated just $4,000 to just 12 candidates for office. All but one of those candidates is a member of the Republican Party, and the other — Robert M. Owens — is a John Birch Society National Council member and Constitution Party candidate for Ohio Attorney General.
This is a meager amount of measurable activity at the state level, furthering bolstering the conclusion that to the extent the “Tea Party” movement has captured the national spotlight, held repeated activist events and swayed multiple elections, these activities have been carried out by means that are off the record, through transactions hidden from public scrutiny.