The conservative grifter’s game

Monday’s Washington Post delivered a devastating account of scandalous behavior by self-proclaimed leaders of the Tea Party movement. Basically, they are raising millions of dollars from True Believers and spending it, almost entirely, on themselves and their expensive fundraising operations. Little or nothing is going to Tea Party candidates.

Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates, according to the analysis, which was based on campaign finance data provided by the Sunlight Foundation.

… Roughly half of the money – nearly $18 million – has gone to pay for fundraising and direct mail, largely provided by Washington-area firms. Meanwhile, tea party leaders and their family members have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees, while their groups have doled out large sums for airfare, a retirement plan and even interior decorating.

The poster child for Tea Party grift is one Jenny Beth Martin, head of the Tea Party Patriots, who is on track to earn roughly $450,000 this year. Her group’s Super PAC has spent $7.4 million since January 2013; a mere $185,000 has gone to support like-minded candidates.

And, as the Post reports, “The dearth of election spending has left many favored tea party candidates exposed before a series of pivotal GOP primaries next month.” Such as Matt Bevin, the formerly red-hot challenger to Mitch McConnell. In fundraising appeals the Patriots named Bevin as a top priority, but they’ve spent only $56,000 on his behalf.

So why am I writing about this in a Vermont political blog? Because our state’s conservative movement is weighed down by some notable grifters of its own — small-time though they may be, compared to the likes of Jenny Beth Martin. To name names: Darcie “Hack” Johnston and Tayt Brooks, International Man of Mystery.  

I can’t tell you exactly how much our Green Mountain Grifters have benefited from the gullibility of conservative donors, because most of the relevant organizations have very lax reporting requirements. But what I can say, should be enough to make any sensible conservatives put their checkbooks in a secure lockbox.

Throughout 2012, Brooks was livin’ high on the bankbook of Montgomery Ward heiress Lenore Broughton, racking up $8,000 per month in consulting fees while spending over a million Broughton Bucks on expensive ad campaigns and mailers or Vermonters First. And failing to move the needle any farther than Johnston did. Vermonters First hasn’t been nearly as active since it rolled snake eyes in 2012, but it still exists, and Brooks is still VF’s head. Kinda makes a mockery of Broughton’s supposed devotion to free markets; in the marketplace of ideas and expertise, Brooks is a known loser. And yet he still has a job. Must be nice.

The Hack, as I reported after the November 2012 election, fleeced the Randy Brock campaign to the tune of more than $100,000 in compensation, or nearly one-fifth of Brock’s total expenditures. This was, you will recall, a desperately underfunded effort that leaned heavily on Brock’s own money. And, thanks to Johnston’s pricey “wisdom,” Brock finished with a dismal 38% of the vote. The Hack failed to move the needle one single iota.

Now, thanks to the wet sloppy French kiss she got from the Burlington Free Press yesterday, we know the Hack is now running the campaign of Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Frank Riggs while simultaneously sending out fundraising appeals for her anti-health-reform group, Vermonters for Health Care Freedom.

Funny: the last time Johnston took a leave of absence from VHCF (to run the Brock campaign), she parachuted in Jeff Wennberg to keep her seat warm. This time, she’s been in Arizona for months, and there’s been no activity on the VHCF website since January. But she’s still listed as the VHCF contact person; no second act for Wennberg.

Which makes me wonder if she’s drawing a salary from VHCF, and what exactly she’s doing to earn it. Of course, she’s #1 in reporters’ Rolodexes when an anti-reform comment is needed; but it doesn’t take much effort to crank out a couple of generic sentences.

There are probably those who think I hate Darcie Johnston — probably including the Hack herself. But really, I don’t. I’ve never met her, and from all accounts she’s a nice person. What I do hate is people who scam the system, who take money and don’t provide any value in return. Yeah, I’m a left-winger, but I do believe in giving full value for payment, and I don’t like grifters.

Recent conservative history is littered with grifters — again, ironic for people who supposedly cherish achievement above all else. The current crop of Tea Party opportunism is of a piece with the Fox News/speaking circuit/ex-candidate Carousel To Nowhere symbolized by the utter cipher that is Sarah Palin, the Kardashian of politics. Not to mention the parallel scam-o-rama of overpriced political “geniuses” like Karl Rove and Richard Viguerie.

And the granddaddy of ’em all, the profiteers of religious broadcasting — Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, et al.

Our homegrown grifters are, by comparison, penny-ante in scope. But they are part of the same, ignoble tradition.  

2 thoughts on “The conservative grifter’s game

  1. When your political movement is based on the “virtue” of selfishness then your pool of potential employees is full of sociopaths and narcissists. The idea that they are theoretically working for your interests doesn’t change their focus. The result is no surprise.

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