Tea Party Leadership Fund shooting BBs at money-clad RINOs?


In the Republican Party's continuing family feud, the Tea Party Leadership Fund is asking all “true conservatives” to chip in to help defeat 87 Republican “traitors” who capitulated in the shutdown standoff – a tall order for any super PAC, let alone one that relies mostly on small-dollar contributions.

Among the targets listed on the group’s website are powerful members like Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, R-Calif., none of them obvious picks for a primary challenge, given their large campaign war chests, and political powerhouse allies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Six members on the Tea Party Leadership Fund's hit list aren't seeking reelection to the House (Two, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia are running for Senate; the rest are retiring). Of the 81 targets who are running for re-election, most seem to be in far better financial shape than the Tea Party Leadership Fund, a Sunlight analysis suggests. As of Sept. 30, members of the group had an average of $915,861 in their campaign coffers. That compares to $210,875 that the Tea Party Leadership Fund had in the bank as of June 30. (In contrast to candidates, most of whom are filing quarterly with the Federal Election Commission, the Tea Party Leadership Fund is on a twice-a-year schedule). 

While left-wingers like Think Progress have been quick to blast the ads as a “gimmick” meant to scare up some grassroots donations, TPLF’s treasurer, Dan Backer, maintains that the PAC is entirely committed to its stated goals. Backer told Buzzfeed that the group has a targeted subset of the list to start with, which includes Boehner. "Our goal is to keep going one after another as our resources allow." Backer told the website, "To get our feet wet, we're starting out with a few, but nobody is going to get a pass."

The group is just one of a host of federal committees associated with the Tea Party movement and is the force behind TheTeaParty.net. While TPLF is not a political lightweight, it does not have the vast resources of traditionally pro-establishment business interests. Moreover, the disparity between the House incumbents' resources and the Tea Party Leadership Fund's doesn't account for another big potential source of cash: independent expenditures — from business groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has already waded into one primary this year, spending $200,000  to help Alabama state senator Bradley Byrne defeat Tea Partier Dean Young in a runoff between the two Republicans.

However, should a challenger from the right successfully unseat a Republican incumbent, they may find themselves without much support on the fundraising circuit.

Records from Sunlight’s Political Party Time show that even though members of the Tea Party caucus may buck the larger party at times, in the past, the House Republican leadership has nonetheless helped these candidates rake in money on the rubber-chicken circuit. It is unclear how this fundraising relationship will continue as things get more contentious between the party’s more moderate and conservative wings.