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. DJ in TX

    I noticed the seminars are how to find women, conservatives, youth for the Tea Party. What about the minorities????? Is there no outreach to minorities to join your movement?

    Makes you wonder......................

    February 4, 2010 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  2. David in KC

    The Howler Monkey Convention! Brought to you by the under educated & over opinionated! Whine for FREEDOM America! Stock Up on ammo! The COMMUNISTS are a-comin!

    February 4, 2010 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  3. Montymarie

    How long is it going to take for American voters to realise that the Republican Party has purged their moderates, and have only haters left?
    These people don't mean well for our country. They mean only to "destroy" (as they have said more than once) our President, and, hopefully get back their majorities in Congress.
    At this particular time in our nation's condition, this is treason, nothing less, and it's time they were faced with this word.
    The Republican Party isn't just the party of "No," this is the Party of Hate. Let's begin calling them what they really are.

    February 4, 2010 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  4. Mike W

    I love these teabaggers. They are the jokes of society, people incapable of dealing with the fact that society and times have changed from thier backwards view points. They are a group that were founded on the principle that they stood against unfair taxation and ultimately stand against a president who gave tax breaks to 95% of all americans. They claim they have unfair taxation without representation and yet thier elected representatives show up to thier events. Mostly they are just mad that thier presidential candidate did not get elected and are incapable of understanding that Barack Obama being the president was the will of Americans.

    I find this group amusing because being as blind as they are in the halls of knowledge leads to many slapstick episodes of them tripping over the books they should be reading instead of burning.

    February 4, 2010 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  5. Just saying...

    This generations' Tea Party will find out, as did similar conservative, populist movements in the past, that it is one thing to shout provocative slogans and it's another thing to govern. For those who doubt this proposition, I offer newly-inaugurated Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell, for example. Watching him twist and turn over the current budget deficit in the Commonwealth will be amusing for quite awhile.

    February 4, 2010 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  6. Linda

    Enough crappola already from these Teabaggers and Republicants. The Tea Party Movement is nothing more than thinly disguised racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism. Let them take their children out of public schools; let them stop driving on the Interstate highways and let neither them, nor their parents collect a single dime of social security or medicare benefits–since they are so horrified by Obama's "socialist" proposals. All of the aforementioned were fought tooth and claw and branded as socialism at the beginning. Stop bashing immigrants; stop obstructing everything the President proposes JUST because he proposed it, and pull your heads out of your hymnals and come join us in the real world-if you dare.

    February 4, 2010 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  7. Pragmatic

    Always easier to complain than to lead and to organize. Next step is paid teapot party leaders ... who will take big bucks to "cover their costs". Even the Red Cross & the United Way didn't stay "pure" ....

    February 4, 2010 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  8. Soaponarope

    I want everyone to know that Nashville is in Davidson County and our county consistently votes democrat, our mayor is Green and our number 1 industry is our college system, followed by Medical industry and finally publishing. I bet the founders of this movement live in Williamson County which is the 10th wealthiest county in the nation and very conservative. They want to hold onto their money. I can understand being a Social Libertarian and voting Libertarian but the Tea Party is just got too many fringe elements. Not good.

    February 4, 2010 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  9. Donkey Party

    What a joke! Yes, let's have less government! Look how good small governments do in Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uganda. That's exactly what we need! Idiots.

    February 4, 2010 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  10. Total BS

    The jerk party !!!

    February 4, 2010 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  11. Keepin It Real

    These are the same ppl who have been complaining about how they have no jobs, no money but yet, they have money to go to a tea party? Why don't they try to help their community instead of wasting all that money for a national tea party.

    I smell an elephant in that tea.

    February 4, 2010 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  12. chris l

    Its hilarious reading and watching all of the liberal media attempt to tell everyone about all of these so called fractures in the tea party movement. Hey CNN, PMSNBC, NY TIMES etc etc.. maybe if you hope enough for the movement to fail and talk about fake fractures in it over and over again it will eventually fail LOL. Hilarious. The anti American Radical Liberals who have infiltrated this country are doomed. The Tea Party Movement consists of true Americans who want their once great country back from the American Al Queda Liberals who have hijacked it. No matter what the media says it will make no difference. You may have fooled some people into electing our radical President, but the game is up. You have been uncovered for the slime u are. Come November this will come to fluition. And as far as Obozo, ONE and DONE. Count on it.

    February 4, 2010 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  13. A keen observer

    Another example of the stupid leading the blind!

    February 4, 2010 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  14. Sarah Palin is the ultimate Tea Partier.......

    she's loaded with dough and ready to go.......we can thank her detractors for her success......personal thanks to Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and Chris Mathews-

    February 4, 2010 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  15. Mitchcns

    Clowns mocking Sam Adams, Paul Revere and real Boston Tea Party participants. What a joke. Read a history book or something.

    February 4, 2010 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  16. T'SAH from Virginia

    This is called a MOVEMENT!!! A 'movement' that is one shade and for a FAR RIGHT cause!!

    The Civil Rights MOVEMENT was for a GOOD cause and there were Black and White marching TOGETHER. All stood and marched side by side for a 'JUST CAUSE' not BECAUSE (I am WHITE and RIGHT). Millions of people marched and the crowds were larger than all of the Tea-Party gatherings PLUS more – COMBINED.

    This is why the TEA-BAGS bicker – they have NO foundation to really drive them – their just driving on that 'bridge to NOWHERE without REAL JUSTIFICATION!!" PA-LEEEZE, give me a break!!

    February 4, 2010 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  17. chaz in colorado

    Whatta bunch of nitwits. Apparently they do not understand economics or the role of government.

    February 4, 2010 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  18. Minnesota gal

    These people pretending to be a bunch of patriots sure turn you off. They are against all the things that make America great. Tea Bags is a darn good name for them. Why because they are all a bunch of used up crap. Most of them don't know what they are for, except to slur and flame others. How Christian is that.

    February 4, 2010 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  19. Travis

    .Everyone on the left and RINOs have their panties in a wad over Tea party leadership? Hey, here is a clue, it is a leaderless revolution, we don't need no steenken leaders. We are all a leader unto ourselves, know what of do, how to do it and when to do it. We coalesce and come together for certain issues, principles and beliefs, we will never agree 100% on everything, nor should we, we are individuals and have individual freedom to act as we see best.

    When a movement gets a so called powerful leader, that person becomes a lightning rod and is selected for destruction by the opposition. Cut of the head of the beast and you destroy the body.

    February 4, 2010 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  20. Cyrus

    And again another lie from Mrs. Palin:

    "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." She is getting about $100K for her speech.

    Nice way to get a tax break, Mrs. Palin. At least be truthful about it. We all need to make money, but don't show false benevolence. Even if you donate each and every dime back to TPN, you would get a substantial break for donating to an association, already exempt by IRS. So, YES, you WOULD benefit financial from speaking at this event.

    If you care about the TPN movement and this lunatic fringe, why not just become a volunteer speaker and not charge a dime to begin with? Hmmm.....food for thought!

    February 4, 2010 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  21. Esther Michael

    Where were these outraged persons in the Bush years who never veoted one bill. This movement is an outgrowth of Beck and Fox Noise hysteria against President Obama. No one remembers the very shaky ground we were on. Also how many grassroot movements do you know can afford 600 to attend not to mention Caribou Barbie getting 100,000 to speak , what a joke!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 4, 2010 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  22. Dem TIl death

    Well, I'll be more convinced by the sincerity of this group when they return their Social Security checks, Disability checks, and stop speeding down Federally subsidised highways.During a massive Recession when many of their fellow countrymen are hurting, they should understand that so called" Big Government" is not the enemy.But more fundamentally they should understand that they could be a part of the solution instead of adding to the devisive vitriol of their fellow Republicans. A good start would be a demand for more U.S. made consumer goods and a high corporate tax on those companies that refuse to add factories in the U.S.A. Try to find American made shoes,toys,small appliances,lamps,jeans,clothing of any kind,cookware,novelties,sheets,towels,electronics, padlocks ,power tools,hand tools. Folks,these big corporations are putting us in the soup lines of our grand-parents. And yes this is THE GREAT DEPRESSION #2.

    February 4, 2010 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  23. Aspen Professor

    Ya just gotta love these Tea Party sheep. Cut big government, cut taxes, BUT do NOT reduce MY benefits or government support in MY area of the country! No siree by george.

    What a bunch of clowns!

    February 4, 2010 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  24. JLM

    The teabaggers are protesting something that they created under the Bush years. What a joke!!!

    February 4, 2010 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  25. Ryan

    These idiots don't realize the thier taxes have been lowered since Obama took office and he's trying to cut thier healthcare expenses. Those expenses increased each year the GOP was in power!!!

    February 4, 2010 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
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