Schieffer Allows Tea Party Express Founder Russo To Pretend They're Not Just Another Republican Astroturf Group


Well, Bob Schieffer dropped the ball badly -- and that's putting it nicely -- while interviewing Tea Party Express founder Sal Russo this weekend on Face the Nation. Schieffer allowed Russo to pretend that his group is really just a grassroots movement founded by small donors, instead of the corporate-funded astroturf it really is -- a way for more Republicans to try and re-brand their party to get the Bush stink off of it.

SCHIEFFER: And we`re back now with Sal Russo, who is the chief strategist for a group called the Tea Party Express. He is in Sacramento this morning.

Mr. Russo, thank you so much. Your organization, it turns out, is the single biggest supporter of tea party candidates. You raised, by my figures here, $5.2 million. You have funneled a lot of that money to these various candidates around the country.

Here are just a couple of examples. A million dollars, I believe, to Sharron Angle, who is running against Harry Reid out in Nevada. Three hundred and fifty thousand to Scott Brown, who was elected to the Senate in Massachusetts. Six hundred thousand dollars to Joe Miller, who got the nomination in Alaska. And $250,000 to Christine O`Donnell, the woman who pulled that upset in Delaware.

Let me just ask you first. where do you get this money?

RUSSO: Well, the Tea Party Express is a federal political action committee. So we don`t have a 501(c)(3) or a 527 or any of these other devices. So all of our money has to come from individuals. By law we can`t take corporate donations and our contributions are limited to less than $5,000. So we have about a half a million members around the country, and they contribute I think about an average of $62, $63 per person.

So we`re the purest form of democracy, I think, in the tea party movement in the sense that when we want to do something, we don`t have any money to start with, we have to send an e-mail out to our people and say, hey, we think Sharron Angle is going to be a great candidate in Nevada, and do you want to get behind her?

SCHIEFFER: All right.

Here's some information from Source Watch on Mr. Russo's group. Maybe someone could ask Bob Schieffer to read it before he interviews him again any time soon.

Tea Party Express is the name for a public relations blitz in 2009 via a cross-country caravan of buses and cars making 35 stops for rallies featured on conservative media. Tea Party Patriots (TPP) is a conservative group initially organized by Freedomworks, which was responsible for organizing the anti-healthcare reform town hall mobs that occurred during the congressional recess period in August, 2009.

This is one tour among several recent, simultaneous, or future scheduled tours. There are several astroturf organizations sending buses around in their own names. See also Americans For Prosperity's Hot Air Balloon Tour[1]; Americans For Prosperity's Patients First Bus Tour[2]; and the American Energy Alliance's American Energy Express.[3]

And here's more on Sal Russo:

Sal Russo is the founder and a principal in the Republican Party-affiliated public relations firm Russo Marsh & Rogers (RM+R), a senior advisor to the King Media Group, RM+R's mirror firm, and chief strategist for Move America Forward. [1] He is also a partner in Russo Watts & Rollins. [...]

Russo is chief strategist for a political action committee formed to oppose Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, called "Our Country Deserves Better." In addition to Russo, several PAC officers are or were associated with Move America Forward, including Howard Kaloogian, Russo Marsh & Rogers principal Joe Wierzbicki, and Marine mom Deborah Johns. [1] [...]

"Under Mr. Russo's direction, Russo Marsh has successfully managed numerous statewide initiative campaigns and provided strategic communication services to a wide variety of national and international clients," RM+R's website states.

  • 1966: Russo volunteered for Ronald Reagan's California gubernatorial campaign. Appointed as a "special assistant" to elected Governor Reagan.
  • 1969: Administrative assistant to "a member of the California Legislature."
  • 1975: Editor of the Agricultural Labor Relations Reporter
  • 1976: Founded political consulting firm California Capitol Consultants

Russo, according to his Move America Forward profile, "has been at the forefront of some of the most prominent national, state and local campaigns in the nation including the election of Governor George Deukmejian (1982), Senator Alfonse D'Amato, New York (1992), Governor George Pataki, New York (1994), presidential bids by Jack Kemp and Senator Orrin Hatch."

Yeah, that's some good old down home, non-partisan grass-rootsy-ness right there. Even if Russo's group is not taking money directly from large corporations he's tied in with those that are as thick as thieves and helping to do their P.R. for them.

And here's more from The New York Times on Russo. I guess it's too much trouble for Bob Schieffer or his staff to take five or ten minutes doing some Google searches on his guests before he's going to have them on his show.

G.O.P. Insider Fuels Tea Party and Suspicion:

But in becoming one of the movement’s most successful players by helping Tea Party favorites oust incumbents or trounce rivals in four states, Mr. Russo is also fast becoming among the most divisive.

Unlike many of the newly energized outsiders who have embraced Tea Party ideals, Mr. Russo, 63, is a longtime Republican operative who got his start as an aide to Ronald Reagan and later raised money and managed media strategy for a string of other politicians, including former Gov. George E. Pataki of New York. His history and spending practices have prompted some former employees and other Tea Party activists to question whether he is committed to, or merely exploiting, their cause.

Mr. Russo’s group, based in California, is now the single biggest independent supporter of Tea Party candidates, raising more than $5.2 million in donations since January 2009, according to federal records. But at least $3 million of that total has since been paid to Mr. Russo’s political consulting firm or to one controlled by his wife, according to federal records.

While most of that money passed through the firms to cover advertising and other expenses, that kind of self-dealing raises red flags about possible lax oversight and excessive fees for the firms, campaign finance experts said.

“They are the classic top-down organization run by G.O.P. consultants, and it is the antithesis of what the Tea Party movement is about,” said Mark Meckler, a national spokesman for Tea Party Patriots, a coalition of grass-roots organizations that does not endorse or contribute to candidates.

While you certainly can say that those out there doing the protesting aren't even aware that they're being taken advantage of by corporations and Republican political operatives, there's no way in hell you can fairly say that Sal Russo's group is not just another astroturf group taking advantage of those people and that they should in any way be portrayed as grass roots or not tied at the hip with the Republican party and large corporate interests.

Shame on Bob Schieffer for allowing this guy to come on the air and paint his group as something other than that. I guarantee this hack would never come on Rachel Maddow's show because she would have done her homework on him and his group and their associations and then given him twenty minutes to destroy himself on the air, and her viewers would have understood just who he's worked for and is working with now.

You can read the entire transcript of the show here.

[Dave N. note: It's worth remembering too that the Tea Party Express infamously employed Mark Williams for most of its existence until his racist screed forced them to remove him from their roster. And as I reported at the start, the Tea Party Express originated under the auspices of Our Country Deserves Better PAC -- an anti-Obama organization that formed even before he was elected. Too bad Schieffer couldn't see fit to mention any of that, either.]

[Karoli note: Let's also not forget that Our Country Deserves Better was the prime engineer behind the Gray Davis recall here in California. This group's DNA rests with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer group, and if you really want to see the product of their flawed, evil policies, just have a look at California. Notable donors include Ross Perot and his family, among others. Remember, it's $5,000 per person, so a big family can give lots of money. They are also part and parcel of the California Republican Party.]


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