Monday, April 19, 2021

Tea and Psychopathy


Image from The Baffler, September 2019 (covering the tenth anniversary celebrations of Tea Party Patriots Action, an organization founded in 2017)

More "economic anxiety", right at the top of the original Tea Party food chain, in this ill-organized but enthralling piece by Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones:

Jenny Beth Martin happened to hear CNBC contributor Rick Santelli on her car radio. He was ranting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange about the administration’s plan to bail out homeowners at risk of foreclosure—or, as he called them, “losers.” “This is America!” he shouted. “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgages [when they have] an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?”

Martin was primed for this message. A graduate of the University of Georgia and the daughter of a Methodist minister, she’d been involved in Republican politics for years, volunteering for Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and later working as a GOP consultant. For about eight years, her husband, Lee, had owned a company that supplied temporary workers to local businesses. The company went belly up in 2007, court records show, and the Martins filed for bankruptcy. In 2009, they were more than $1.4 million in debt. Lee owed the IRS $1 million and more than $172,000 to Georgia’s tax authorities. The Martins eventually lost their home and their twin Lincoln Navigators.

Their own economic calamity did not make the Martins more sympathetic to the victims of the Great Recession. “The contrast hit me hard,” Martin wrote in the 2012 book she co-authored with Mark Meckler (now the interim CEO of Parler), Tea Party Patriots: The Second American Revolution. “While my husband and I cleaned our neighbors’ bathrooms to pay our bills, our taxes were being spent by our government to pay for the mortgages of people who could not, or would not, pay their bills.”

Honey, you don't seem to have been paying your taxes. And that million dollars wasn't income tax (which is generally dischargeable under Chapter 7 bankruptcy), either, unless it was willfully evaded tax (as in repeated failure to pay, or failure to file returns) or fraud (such as hiding bank accounts from IRS). Most likely at least some of it was the payroll tax you should have been paying for your workers in that rent-seeking enterprise in which you extruded cash out of the local economy's desire to get work done without paying benefits.

And I'll bet you ten dollars that the bathroom-cleaning episode was on behalf of the company, when the Martins were so anxious to cut labor costs (or the workers so tired of the wage theft) that it was the only way they could keep a commitment. It's certainly not as if they went from house to house knocking on doors down their street saying, "You have any work around the house that needs doing? I'll work for food, or insurance payments for the Navigators."

One way in which the rich are very different from you and me is the quality of their economic anxiety, which is much higher class, and richly earned.

Anyway that's how the Tea Party began its grassroots life, in February 2009, with Jenny Beth Martin and a bunch of other Rick Santelli fans organizing demonstrations against Obama's new administration and its effort to save victims of the mortgage-backed security market collapse from eviction and foreclosure, and eventually (with Mark Meckler and an Obama-hating suburban mom and blogger called Amy Kremer) organizing Tea Party Patriots, Inc., a 501(c)(4) nonprofit (meaning it is allowed to lobby and endorse political candidates and keep its donors' names secret—unlike a 501(c)(3), for which donations are tax-deductible).

For which, according to Mencimer's financial sidebar,

Between 2011 and 2012, this nonprofit took in nearly $40 million, and Martin’s salary jumped to almost $300,000. In 2017, it claimed 10,000 volunteers and reported paying Martin $241,500 a year. Yet in 2018, it reported negative revenues and her salary zeroed out.

That might have something to do with the 2017 founding of Tea Party Patriots Action: 

In 2019, this nonprofit brought in $3.6 million and paid Martin $246,144 for 25 hours of work per week. It reported to the IRS that it paid for Martin to fly first class because she had to “be able to work on the flights.” Its expenses included a “tenth anniversary event,” even though the organization didn’t exist before 2017. In 2018, its biggest expenditure was a $530,000 donation to the TPP Citizens Fund. The following year, the fund gave it $86,400 for “staffing services,” plus $100,000 to rent its mailing list, and $46,000 in donations.

(The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund being a super-PAC of which Martin is chair, a million-dollar-plus contributor to the 2016 and 2020 Trump campaigns, whose largest donor is Richard Uihlein, chairman, director, and CEO of the Uline shipping supply company and heir to the Schlitz beer fortune whose bigger donations include $7.5 million over the years to the Club For Growth, $7.7 million to Republican state campaigns in Illinois, and $19.6 million to Republican national campaigns in 2016, of which $3.45 million went to Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson's super-PAC Restoration PAC.)

Entrepreneurs gonna entreprendre, if you know what I mean. The piece is mostly about too many different things; in particular the long feud between Martin and Kremer, and Kremer's daughter Kylie, and (much less fleshed out) the various degrees to which they contributed to sparking the 6 January coup attempt, but through it runs the thread telling the story of the Tea Party movement as a grift operation the Martins drifted into after their previous business failed. 

Thus Amy Kremer's rival organization, Tea Party Express, founded in an angry split with Martin on the basis of the Tea Party Patriots mailing list, raises $10 million for the 2012 election season, but only spends $681,000 of it on political campaigns. Meanwhile, Martin's original 501(c)(4) gives birth to a traditional 501(c)(3) and the super-PAC which by 2014 is raising $14 million for the midterm elections but spending 90% of that on administration and fund-raising, including $15,000 per month for Martin as a "strategic consultant". 

Martin's husband Lee publishes scandalous (and apparently false) allegations against Kremer's husband, James Lyle, who sues him and the Tea Party Patriots, winning a judgment of $833,000 in damages and $200,000 in legal costs in 2017;  that's when TPP made that $530,000 donation to the TPP Citizens Fund, which wasn't a party to the suit, keeping it out of Lyle's hands, and giving it back, apparently to pay Jenny Beth's salary the following year. Not only that, but online donations to TPP were silently diverted to a new organization, TPP Action, for the same purpose, $2 million in the first year. Lyle and Kremer never saw a dime of the judgment (not that they're nice people either, but they do seem to be mostly on the losing side of the feud).

And so on. It's endlessly fascinating to me how riddled with grift this whole world seems to be, designed to milk wealthy Republicans of their savings, even as it keeps working in conjunction with its media allies in the Murdoch empire and Sinclair, getting itself taken seriously by the more mainstream press, and the big job (tax cutting and financial and industrial deregulation) really does generally get done, as if they really were both effective lobbyists and common swindlers at the same time. At least until now. 

I keep hoping we could really be embarking on the last act of this 50-year spectacle, when people begin to understand, in the grim light of the plague, what a fantastically multileveled con it has been the whole time, and democracy begins to function again. Tell your senators to vote for S.1, or end the filibuster, whichever works best!

No comments:

Post a Comment