February 4th, 2010
07:06 PM ET
12 years ago

Controversial Tea Party convention aims to boost the movement


A protester displays a version of the Betsy Ross American flag during a Tea Party movement rally in Washington last September. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

(CNN) - What's being billed as the first national Tea Party convention opens its doors Thursday night amid widespread interest and some controversy.

Organizers hope the three-day event will help strengthen the year-old anti-big-government movement. On its Web site, organizer Tea Party Nation says the event is "aimed at bringing the Tea Party Movement leaders together from around the nation for the purpose of networking and supporting the movement's multiple organizations' principal goals."

But there has been pushback against the convention and its organizers from both outsiders and some in the movement because of Tea Party Nation's for-profit status and because the price of entry attendees have paid for access to the workshops and seminars being held through Saturday.

Red State blogger Erick Erickson wrote that while he has good things to say about some groups within the Tea Party, "this national tea party convention smells scammy."

Mark Meckler said he and Jenny Beth Martin, co-founders of the Tea Party Patriots, aren't participating in the convention because "it wasn't the kind of grass-roots organization that we are, so we declined to participate."

Organizers say some 600 people have paid $549 each to attend the convention and that the event is sold out. But they add that tickets costing $349 are still available for Saturday night's banquet, where former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will give the convention's keynote address.

Sherry Phillips, who along with her husband, Nashville attorney Judson Phillips, founded Tea Party Nation, said earlier this week in a message to supporters that "we fully expect to break even at this event. We may even make a few thousand dollars to cover local operating costs of TPN."

Phillips also fired back at her critics, saying, "We never did this to make us rich or famous. Quite the contrary, we are patriots who love our country, our members and the people who are coming to Nashville to attend this great event."

As for Palin, neither the convention organizers nor a spokeswoman for the former governor would confirm reports that the former governor is getting paid around $100,000 for her keynote appearance.

"I will not benefit financially from speaking at this event," Palin said in a statement this week. "Any compensation for my appearance will go right back to the cause."

As controversy surrounds the convention, tensions have been rising among Tea Party activists. Rival factions are battling over who will carry the Tea Party banner, and others worry that powerful groups are "Astroturfing" what they think should remain a grass-roots group.

Last week two major speakers scheduled for the convention dropped out of the lineup. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota announced that they would not attend the convention, which is being held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville.

Blackburn was scheduled to serve as a featured speaker and introduce Palin. Bachman was scheduled to serve as one of the convention's kickoff speakers. Both are strong supporters of the Tea Party movement.

Both said the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct advised them not to participate because of the convention's for-profit status. And both said the canceling of their speeches is not a sign that their commitment to the Tea Party movement is fading.

But speeches from top conservative politicians are not the focus of the convention. Panels, sessions and workshops appear to be the bread and butter of this event. Among the sessions scheduled for Friday are ones on how to conduct voter registration drives and where to find conservative votes, women in politics, how to organize a Tea Party group, how to involve youth in the conservative movement, grass-roots "on the ground," how to unite state Tea Party groups, technology in the Tea Party movement, and why Christians must engage.

"This convention is a way to galvanize the conservative movement in a way that the general rallies do not," said Mark Skoda, who's serving as spokesman for the convention and who will be leading the panel on technology in the movement.

–CNN's Kristi Keck contributed to this report.

soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. EC

    These Tea Parties are FULL OF BS. They got GREEDY and got caught at the own GREED. Now they are pointing their fingers at everyone else but their CROOKED BUTTS!!

    Right Wing Wackos trying to get RICH, RICH, RICH off of their own constituents by smiling in their faces while draining their pockets behind their backs!!

    I have NO SYMPATHY for folks who ALLOW themselves to be hood-winked by these Tea Baggers!!! Their BAGGING YOUR MONEY AND LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK! HA! HA! HA!

    February 4, 2010 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  2. Brian

    So this is like an anarchist/theocrat political gathering that lines the pockets of rich conservatives? Sounds legit to me.

    February 4, 2010 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  3. al in memphis

    Smell scammy and conservative in the same story–say it aint so. Let's be real, most political movements are about several short side issues. That not to say they are wrong, its just the good one are easy to tell because they spend more time promoting ideas and open dialogue rather than just criticizing.

    February 4, 2010 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  4. Libertarian

    Ahhh....the so sheep has been exposed as the wolf that it is! This was just another "new venture" for those millionaires and Faux News. They saw an opportunity to make a quick buck off the upset American people and took full advantage! I sure hope those remaining "tea baggers" don't fall prey to the follow up scam of which takes advantage of those folks who gave money but are too proud to admit they were scammed. Then they prove they weren't scammed by getting more involved and "donating" more money. SUCKERS!!!

    February 4, 2010 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  5. coreywalker

    for eight years they said nothing.until a black man became president.

    February 4, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  6. ben jackson

    Where were these people when Bush was waging two wars while cutting taxes for the rich?

    February 4, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  7. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    I don't agree with the Tea Party politics, but there is no denying that people are upset with Obama and the Status Quo.

    Obama ignores the People at his political peril.

    February 4, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  8. Edwin

    It's hard for me to say this, but I think Palln is more honest and sincere than the people running the Tea Party. She may be trying to capitalize on the movement and her popularity, but at least she did not create the organization in order to reap profits.

    I agree with Erick Erickson's assessment - if they were really sincere, they should have found a way to be non-profit. Bachmann and Blackburn are right to avoid this convention.

    February 4, 2010 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |

    It's only "contraversial" to those in the state-run MSM who want it portrayed that way. ACORN is controversial, as are the SEIU, Rev. Wright, Pentagon bomber Ayers and most of Obama's court (cabinet and czars).

    February 4, 2010 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  10. Mike in MN

    The Tea Party movement does not need this convention to keep growing. The Tea Party Nation that is running the convention is just one of many all across this nation. The Tea Party Nation is a for profit organization and should not be supported by the Tea Party movement. There are many many more organizations to choose from. This convention is just a blimp on the screen. The movement is growing and will continue to grow whether or not this convention happens. Any controversy over this convention will be of little interest to the vast majority of Tea Party activits all across this nation who are supporting or involved in organizations other than the Tea Party Nation.
    The movement is centered around a core set of values, not any particular Tea Party organization or any particuar political party. However I doubt that there will be any liberal progressive Democrat candidates that will champion the values of the Tea Party movement.

    February 4, 2010 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  11. Paul H

    I'm glad to see that people are a live and paying attention to what's going on in Washington. I'm also glad that this isn't Iran, or Venezuela where speaking out against Big Government, or total government domination will get you killed, or arrested.
    This is America people if you don't like the tea party movement, then at the very least celebrate freedom of speech, and being able to express discontent.
    The fact that some people think anything controversial of this movement is almost a statement against freedom.

    February 4, 2010 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  12. FactCheck

    Yeah, a "grass roots" movement financed by big corporations, and created by one of the biggest pharmaceutical lobbyists in the country (Dick Armey).

    February 4, 2010 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  13. Julie Thomas

    Don't these people have a job? All this energy wasted on selfish, greedy people who are sore losers. FACT CHECK: Obama won the presidency, so get over it!

    February 4, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  14. Jon S.

    These people are an embarrassment to our country. It's all well and good to protest if you know what you're protesting about, but if you watch any of the YouTube videos, these people are poster children for ignorance, without the barest understanding of how our government works.

    February 4, 2010 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  15. not alone

    Only real problem with the tea party movment is that they really fail to show concern with bush ok'ed free trade with China and started up the whole thing with selling debt and boy did he sell alot of it. seems the only time the Republicans are concernd with national debt is when they are out of office. Least it does from here, not that the dems are doing anything towards a solution dealing with debt and the huge trade inbalances we have with China. Reall if both parties wanted to help unemployent and trade they would yank China's most favored trade status and start getting tariffs untell we got a good share of our work back.

    February 4, 2010 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  16. Terry - Indiana

    It is the American Way. Spin-up the crowd, tell the crowd what it wants to hear, and charge $549.00 to come and hear more. Face it folks, the Founding Fathers understood what was to come when they all went home after one or two terms. Today, money rules Washington, in fact money rules the world. I love the irony of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all taking money from healthcare insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, banks, Wall Street Financial Institutions, and defense contractors. Since February of 2009, every member of the House and Senate has taken millions in campaign contributions, and the Tea Party remained quiet. I guess the members of the Tea Party were scrapping together $549.00 to support the grass roots movement of the Tea Party. Welcome to the United States of Greed.

    February 4, 2010 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  17. Jeff

    Horray for a giant gathering of the most ignorant white people this country has to offer. So long as we have them all in one place, can we quarantine them/seal them off permanently from the rest of society?

    February 4, 2010 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  18. Dale

    I hope someone can answer my question. If I pay the $550 ticket price for the Tea Party Convention, can I bring my loaded firearm like I did to the Town Hall meetings that I was encouraged to by other Tea Party Patriots?

    February 4, 2010 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  19. stevegee

    Washington has become what we fought a revolution against over 225 years ago - an overreaching, overtaxing, oligarchy!

    It's time to get out the chainsaw and cut Washington down to size. It won't be easy to reduce the scope of the Federal Government, but if we don't, our deficits will bankrupt the country.

    The American people want real change, not the PR BS from the last election. We are fed up with the Feds and we want our freedom and liberty back.

    February 4, 2010 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  20. A4H

    Majority of independent, libetarian, moderate democrats and republicans joined the tea party movement; their number is growing due to discontent how this country is being run by incompetent president, democrat controlled congress and senate who has great love for taxing, spending and borrowing. We have an out of control government spending and invasion of our own liberty and freedom by the democrats. This country is CENTER-RIGHT; between party and country, for some reason thinking Americans choose their country over their party – I wonder why.

    February 4, 2010 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  21. Darko

    It all depends on where the profits go. Most non-profits are just really good at hiding their funding anyway.

    Besides... what's a Tea Party Movement without a little capitalistic spirit???

    February 4, 2010 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  22. Ravi

    I strongly support the Tea Party movement and really like the fact that they understand that the Founders had it right. Strict construction of the Constitution, and then following it to the "T", is the ONLY way to rescue our federal republic of States. The 10th Amendment, States' rights, and the general model of federalism will be key to returning power (and control) to the people.

    The GOP has allowed itself to become controlled by globalist corporations, and the Dems have been hijacked by a radical, treasonous, and toxic fringe element of the West and East Coasts, who are hostile to the Constitution and hate our country so much that they want to transform it into some type of European style "democracy", when the Founders clearly rejected democracy (mob rule) as a form of government, and decided to make us a federation of sovereign States... a constitutional federal republic. For our country's sake, I hope the Tea Party and 10th Amendment movements continue to grow.

    February 4, 2010 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  23. Michael from Ventura

    Even with a big crowd they MIGHT have a combined IQ of 60.

    February 4, 2010 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  24. SuperHiro

    It's a shame all the corporate money has to pollute this movement. Not to mention the whackjobs.

    February 4, 2010 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  25. Katie

    So they are going to show "how to involve youth in the conservative movement". Isn't that what the conservatives got so upset about when the students at that school were singing songs in honor of the President? They were accusing the school of indoctrinating the youth of America. Hmmm...

    February 4, 2010 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
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