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Majority Of Tea Party Group's Spending Went To GOP Firm That Created It

by Zachary Roth

The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) -- which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement -- directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place.

Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB) spent around $1.33 million from July through November, according to FEC filings examined by TPMmuckraker. Of that sum, a total of $857,122 went to Sacramento-based GOP political consulting firm Russo, Marsh, and Associates, or people associated with it.

OCDB, which built the Tea Party Express, is essentially a Russo, Marsh creation, as we've detailed. The PAC's site was registered in July 2008 by Sal Russo, the firm's founder. That site also lists Russo as the PAC's "chief strategist." Tea Party Express fundraising emails, sent by OCDB and obtained by TPMmuckraker, come from another Russo, Marsh employee, Joe Wierzbicki.

Just for good measure, legendary GOP bamboozler Howard Kaloogian is also on OCDB's board, and has close ties to Russo, Marsh.

From July through November 2009, the firm received $832,403 from OCDB, according to the FEC records. An additional $8,500 went to Russo himself. And Wierzbicki took in $16,219.

The services for which Russo, Marsh was paid appear to be legitimate campaign needs. For instance, it took in several hundred thousand for what OCDB listed in the FEC filings as "PAC Email Newsletter Costs - Generic Fun." That would appear to refer to the numerous fund-raising and activism emails sent to volunteers to promote and build the Tea Party Express -- a nationwide bus tour to build opposition to the Obama agenda -- many of them by Wierzbicki.

But one expert on political action committees told TPMmuckraker it was unusual for a PAC to direct so much spending back to the entity that created it. And the spending details raised hackles among members of the Tea Party Patriots, a rival faction of conservative activists who have denounced TPE as a creature of Republican political professionals that lacks grassroots authenticity. In an email to a Patriots group that was obtained by TPMmuckaker, one TPPer who had examined the filings asked, "What would the true grassroots people think if they knew their money is being spent in this manner?"

A message left in the general mailbox for Russo, Marsh was not immediately returned.

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