September 15, 2009

Let's make a distinction here. Yes, there's no question that the Tea Party movement is being led and manipulated by the usual right-wing suspects - but the individuals who are being led and manipulated, like most people, simply have no idea of the sophistication (and money) behind this "grassroots" machine.

Aboard the Tea Party Express (CNN) -- From the stage, Deborah Johns is the angry conscience of the tea party movement.

"Question everything your government is doing," she tells a crowd of about 100 from the bus's stage in the parking lot of the Winners casino in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Under a setting sun on the steps of the state capitol in Little Rock, Arkansas, Johns says: "Our men and women took an oath when they put on the uniform to defend and protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic. I think we've got some domestic enemies in the White House."

On a sunny afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, Johns works the crowd of about 2,000 into a frenzy.

"The men and women in our military didn't fight and die for this country for a communist in the White House," she says, and the crowd erupts in a chant of "U-S-A, U-S-A!"

On the bus, Johns slips off her heels and slips on a pair of ankle socks. She curls up under a quilt her grandmother made. She favors skirts and cardigans -- a pit bull in cashmere.

She leads the rallies in each city with Mark Williams, a former talk radio host who now writes books and makes the rounds on cable TV chat shows. Both work for Our Country Deserves Better, the conservative political action committee sponsoring the Tea Party Express bus tour.

Deborah Johns, Deborah Johns. Where have I heard that name before? Here's what Hart Williams has found:

Via Sourcewatch:

The officers of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC overlap extensively with current and former leaders of the pro-war organization Move America Forward (MAF). These include MAF co-founder and former chair Howard Kaloogian, who chairs the PAC; PR executive Sal Russo, who serves as chief strategist for both MAF and the PAC; Russo Marsh & Rogers principal Joe Wierzbicki, who serves as grassroots coordinator for MAF and coordinates the PAC; and Marine mom Deborah Johns, who is MAF’s director of military relations and the [new] PAC’s spokesperson.[2]

Sourcewatch continues:

Following the election of Barack Obama on November 4, 2008, the PAC put a poll on its website, asking supporters to weigh in on the group’s future. The poll asked the question, “Should we fight on for victory in 2010 and 2012?” and the possible responses were “YES – We must fight for victory!,” “NO – We should accept defeat and move on,” or “UNDECIDED/UNSURE.” [7]

In response to a blogger’s question, “What will the Our Country Deserves Better organization focus on now that Obama has won?,” Deborah Johns replied: “We do plan to be a watchdog for what happens in the Obama Administration, especially when it comes to matters concerning our military and national defense. We are also going to look at Congressional and Senate issues and hold them accountable as well.” [8]

Professional "Marine mom" Deborah Johns has been on this particular right-wing gravy train for a while:

* Spokesperson, "You Don't Speak For Me, Cindy" tour for Move America Forward and the "Support Our Troops" tour for which Hart Williams records indicating it was funded by the Department of Defense.

* Vice President, Our Country Deserves Better PAC, which oddly enough for a "grassroots" organization, registers its domain site through Australia.

This particular PAC spends quite a bit of money hiring Russo Marsh (the company which created it) to create astroturf campaigns and ads against Democrats. They also pay Deborah Johns "PAC consulting wages." (Oh, and the ever-elusive Endeavor Media, owned by Bobby Eberle, founder of Talon News, employer of one Jeff Gannon.)


Craig Holman, the watchdog group Public Citizen's campaign finance lobbyist, agreed that "there's a lot of commingling that goes on" between PACs and non-profit organizations -- also referred to 501(c)(3) groups -- though "there is supposed to be a very significant firewall between them." Under current rules, "the objective is to make sure that whoever's making the decisions and directing the PAC isn't also making the decisions and directing the 501(c)(3). If they're the same people, they've got the same knowledge, they've got the same objectives. To me, that crosses the line. ... But most of these groups realize that no one's going to go after them."

Americanrivercanyon, the Daily Kos diarist who did the very heavy lifting on this, concludes:

These anti-health care reform "grassroots" efforts are not just being organized and funded from the health insurance industry, pharmaceutical industry, etc. - but from Dept of Defense Contractors that depend on Republican earmarks for funding, and Big Oil, which is engaged in a power struggle with the rest of the nation as they fight against turning towards creating and using more renewable energy.

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