Tea party group defends controversial spending habits

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 08: Jenny Beth Martin, president of Tea Party Patriots, speaks during the 41st annual Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord International Hotel and Conference Center on March 8, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland. The conference, a project of the American Conservative Union, brings together conservatives polticians, pundits and voters for three days of speeches and workshops. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
T.J. Kirkpatrick, Getty Images
Revelations that the Tea Party Patriots' powerhouse super PAC pours most of its money into fundraising and operating costs rather than actual political campaigns are nothing more than "sensational allegations" perpetuated by the "liberal media and GOP Establishment," the group is now arguing.

Buzz erupted over the weekend after analysis by the Washington Post found that out of $37.5 million disbursed by six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has gone toward directly helping candidates they've endorsed. Tea Party Patriot's super PAC, specifically, has spent three-quarters of the $7.4 million it's raised since the beginning of 2013 on direct mail and small-donor fundraising efforts; only $184,505 has been funneled into helping elect conservative candidates.

In an email blast to supporters Monday night, the hands-off-government organization said the claim that the Tea Party Patriots and its super PAC "spend too much money on fundraising, with little left over to actually help drive our issues and help our endorsed candidates" couldn't be "further from the truth."

Further underscoring the apparent disconnect between the group's expenditures and its signature message of reining in government spending, the Washington Post's report also notes that between her consulting fees and salary brought in through her work in the group's nonprofit arm, Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin could personally rake in as much as $450,000 this year.

Tea Party Patriots spokesman Kevin Broughton told the Post that Martin "probably works 90 to 100 hours a week" and therefore her salary can't "objectively be considered unreasonable." He also said the group plans to ramp up its participation in actual 2014 races during summer and fall months.

In a statement provided to CBS News, the Patriots defended its heavy reliance on direct mail, calling it a tool to not only drum up smaller-dollar contributions but also to "communicate directly with our members about important issues" like the IRS targeting scandal, Obamacare and Benghazi.

"Because we (and our allies) cannot rely on being able to spread our message through ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, or scores of other so-called 'mainstream' media outlets, we have been forced to create our own channels of communications. Our main way to do this is through direct communication with them," the statement said.

"In less than 5 years, we have placed over a quarter of a billion (with a b) email messages directly into inboxes of conservative Americans," the group went on. "In the mail, we have disseminated over 34.7 million messages into mailboxes of our citizens. Over 1.2 million people have signed online petitions or taken some other activist action from email communications and over 600,000 have signed hard copy petitions or taken some other step in activism related to our principles. Since October, we have generated over 3 million calls into Congressional offices supporting our issues.

Any money the group spends on travel or staff salaries, the statement concluded, is to "work toward our mission."

"While the Tea Party Patriots is grassroots-based and volunteer driven," the organization said, "altruism inevitably meets reality; it costs money to operate an organization of this magnitude."

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