The Tea Party movement that drew over 1.2 million people to anti-tax rallies across the nation is in danger of being "hijacked" by special-interest groups promoting partisan causes or fundraising, the movement's founders tell Newsmax.
Since the grassroots movement caught fire, several Web sites have sprung up claiming to be "official" and asking for donations.
"We do not want it to be a GOP movement," TEA Party Patriots' National Coordinator Amy Kremer tells Newsmax. "There are many organizations that are trying to hijack the movement."
The group's immediate concern is Thursday night's nationwide "Fight for Freedom" teleconference hosted by the Republican Governors Association (RGA) and led by GOP governors Rick Perry of Texas and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. The event has been dubbed as "Tea Party 2.0." Some 30,000 participants are expected to participate in the free event. Anyone can listen in free of charge by registering at www.thegopcomeback.com.
"We think that by them holding this teleconference and titling it Tea Party 2.0, [it] is a testament to our success, of the Tea Party movement's success around the country," Kremer says. "And while we welcome their support of the Tea party movement, they are not representative of the movement, and we just want to make that clear."
Founders add that the RGA and GOP have not supported their previous endeavors, and state they are not affiliated with them in any way.
"Our concern is this is a nonpartisan movement," Amy Kremer, a national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, adds. "There are a lot of Democrats, Republicans, Independents, libertarians -- many types of people are involved in this movement."
Tea Party Patriots' leaders say that Perry turned down their request to hold a rally on the steps of the Capitol on April 15, and they held their rally elsewhere. Although Perry promoted Tea Party activities occurring that day, they say he skipped the TEA Party group's rally in Austin that day in favor of an event at Austin City Hall hosted by another organization.
"Basically, they had their own agenda," says Judy Holloway, state co-coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, who attended that other event. "It was pretty much all Republicans and the GOP at City Hall. It was like a campaign, a political rally. That when also Gov. Perry announced that he was going to secede."
The governor also attended tea party rallies in Arlington and Fort Worth that day, his spokesmen say.
Republicans have been quick to distance themselves from any suggestion they're trying to co-opt the Tea Party movement and make it their own.
RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf tells Newsmax: "The purpose of the call is not at all meant to be a takeover of the tea party movement. It's simply meant to raise awareness of the important battles played out on a state level. It's really a compliment to the accomplishments the tea party movement."
Similarly, a spokesman for Gov. Perry's office, Mark Miner, tells Newsmax that the RGA event is in no way intended to overshadow or exploit the original grassroots movement.
"We all do share the same concerns, that with the out of control spending in Washington … it's mortgaging future generations of Americans. We agree this is a grassroots movement that millions of Americans are participating in," Miner says.
On Wednesday, the RGA Web post touting the teleconference stated: "At Tea Parties across the country, hundreds of thousands of citizens declared that our taxes are too high, our federal government is too big, and our states' rights are being trampled upon."
After concerns were raised by the original Tea party organization, that blurb on the RGA Web site was changed to also state: "Out of respect for that great movement, we want to be sure to do our part."
The confusion over who speaks for the Tea Party movement reflects its beginnings as a decentralized, grassroots movement led by an organization that, in turn, coordinated its efforts with over a dozen other organizations.
"The idea is to provide a platform for these tea parties that aren't partisan, that aren't tied to one group, [and is] focused on one issue, which is the excessive government spending," says Everett Wilkerson, Florida coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, whose Web site is TeaPartyPatriots.org.
There is some debate about the precise origins of the Tea Party. Some trace it to a February anti-bailout rant by CNBC personality Rick Santelli that went viral on the Internet, drawing the ire of the Obama administration. Others say it has its origins in ideas that came out of last year's CPAC meeting.
Today, there are several other groups claiming to act as clearinghouses for tea party information and events, describing themselves as "official" sites.
The original site for the annual tax-day events, TaxDayTeaParty.com, was built earlier this year by net-savvy activist and group co-founder Eric Odom. After the April 15 events drew so much national attention, Odom tells Newsmax he wished to continue to focus his efforts on TaxDayTeaParty.com. Other co-founders of the movement wanted to continue to focus on limited government and reduced taxes. They created Tea Party Patriots.
Those two groups continue to work "very much in parallel" and are simply approaching shared objectives in different ways, Odom says.
Odom adds, "I absolutely endorse the Tea Party Patriots' effort as sort of filling the role … [of] providing an online area for collaboration to occur. I would think that it would be the best source out there for Tea Party activism."
Asked if he supports Thursday's RGA event involving Perry and Sanford, Odom says: "It depends on what they're going to say. I very much appreciate that both of them coming out a month after the historic, unprecedented event, and offering congratulations to all Americans who were part of that. I wish there were two Democratic governors who would say the same thing – I doubt that's the going to be the case, however.
"I think that Perry and Sanford probably have proper motives," Odom tells Newsmax. "Unfortunately, they are part of a [GOP] brand that is going to end up doing a little bit more damage than good. I'm not as upset as other people are. We shouldn't jump to conclusions. We should wait and hear what they have to say."
Gov. Sanford's communications director, Joel Sawyer, tells Newsmax that Sanford's primary objective is to advance the limited-government goals espoused by Tea party organizers.
"For Gov. Sanford this is about listening," Sawyer says. "He greatly admired the Tea Party events both for their energy and for the fact they were truly driven from the bottom-up in a grassroots fashion. What's kind of frustrating for Gov. Sanford is that the Republican Party should be all about the themes expressed by the Tea Parties: limited government and lower taxes. And unfortunately, some people in the party have gotten away from that."
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