By Enrique Lopetegui
The harder San Antonio’s Tea Party (SATP) tries to be transparent, the more opaque things get.
It seems that, in April, the San Antonio Tea Party received more than $150,000 in donations, as posted (for “transparency”) on a month-by-month link on sanantonioteaparty.info. From May to October, the group received an average of $14,704.30 in monthly donations, but in April the group hit the jackpot: $155,643.17. That grand sum supposedly came from “business donations, fundraising lunch, cash donations, donations from individuals, website donations, T-shirts, and books,” but the online data only includes deposits and expenses; no names of corporate or individual donors.
Not that the Tea Party is bound by law to reveal the names of donors, but in The Great Crusade for Transparency, revealing where the money exactly came from wouldn’t hurt, would it?
“The only thing I should keep out of the public eye are the names and amounts of our donors …,” wrote SATP treasurer Gail Kaciuba in the report.
If San Antonio’s MoveOn council co-coordinator Angie Drake wasn’t envious about the SATP donations, she should have been.
“Our groups are so small we don't even run a bank account,” she told the Queblog in an email. “If we need photocopies, individuals take care of it. Nonetheless, we’re constantly accused by Tea Party members of AstroTurfing.”
The Tea Party has its own accusations to deal with. In an internal email sent June 26, SATP President Matt Perdue wondered where the money was really going.
“I have a big problem with being asked to bust my chops to cover an expense that is a single line item of $50,921 –lights, sound, stage– with absolutely no detail,” he wrote. Then, in a blast email sent November 11, he turned on Kaciuba.
“If there is nothing wrong going on, why has there not been one single piece of paper produced to back up why people got checks, some for $3,000, $7,400+, $4,000, $10,400+??? Where is the documentation? Why isn't the cash deposited like it should be? Why did it take more than two weeks to deposit cash from the meetings? What comprises this almost $51,000?” Kaciuba didn’t return a phone call from the Queblog.
Now, this is where it gets tricky. Try to follow.
Perdue left the SATP and formed his own group, the San Antonio Tea Party Support (SATPS) but, depending on whom you ask, it happened out of his frustration with the SATP (say, in early November) or after he was asked to resign from the SATP. Whatever the case, something happened in between.
“The sanantonioteaparty.org website went away sort of mysteriously about three weeks ago,” Jon Kaplan, SATP Health Care Tiger committee chair Jon Kaplan told the Queblog on November 23. Visitors are now automatically directed to theythinkyouarestupid.org, which is the site that was used by founding chairman Robin Juhl when the SATP was formed in March. “I believe Robin is allowing people to get [SATP] information until we get our own back,” Kaplan said.
So, who erased the SATP website? “I’m only speculating,” Kaplan says, but he can’t help but consider a few suspects.
“When you go to teapartysupport.org, it names [Perdue] as CEO, John Watson [formerly with SATP] as CFO, his daughter [and also a former SATP operative], Susan Brown, as senior research analyst, and Michael Knowles [former webmaster of SATP] as the webmaster of the SATPS support website now,” Kaplan said. “[Perdue] and [Knowles], being technology people, were in control of the SATP website, and they may have chosen to redirect people to their own website. That’s been a source of controversy, if it is true.”
The Queblog visited teapartysupport.org, but could only confirm that Michael Knowles is the store manager/webmaster, and Susan Watson Brown its assistant store manager. Perdue was reached by the Queblog, but so far he still hasn’t agreed to an interview.
Wait… Did Kaplan say Michael Knowles? Where did we hear that name before?
“There is another tea party member who ‘belongs’ to our local MoveOn group (as a mole), named Michael Knowles,” MoveOn’s Drake told the Queblog in an email. “He signed up with our council but has never attended any events. He gets our emails. At first, I didn't know which person was forwarding information (I had 160 members, not all active). But I have been calling each member and updating information. I found him listed on a San Antonio MeetUp site for the SA Tea Party. I haven't deleted him from our membership roles yet. If he chooses to run for office with the Tea Party Support, he will be in violation of their rules ... He can't belong to an organization that disagrees with the Tea Party.”
In order to confirm we are talking about the same person, the Queblog contacted the Michael Knowles who “volunteers” for MoveOn, but the phone rang and rang, with no answer.
It gets better: Not only did Perdue form his own Tea Party, but technically speaking, he’s still SATP president until the SATP gets its new board.
“Yes, that’s right,” says Kaplan. “Hopefully in about three weeks we’ll get a new board. One of the things the new board will do, I hope, is to consider having an audit done so that we can disclose to the public and to our supporters that we had an independent impartial review of our finances that proves that we haven’t done what Mr. Perdue alleges. I don’t believe these allegations are true. The other thing is that I want to see the bylaws change, so that we have open meetings and better transparency of our procedures.”
So we all agree the SATP has been less than transparent, right?
“That’s correct,” Kaplan says. “It’s not because anybody intends to be secretive, but because we set [SATP] up probably on the run and didn’t think about the issues that could become questionable in the public arena. Now that we have [encounter them], we’re having problems. I believe these are mostly good people trying to do the right thing, but I think we’ve responded so fast on an emergency basis to what we saw as problems out of Washington, that we didn’t really think through adequately the way [to handle] our organization.”
The local splinter group is a reflection of a growing trend within the “grassroots” Tea Party movement. The Tea Party Patriots vs. Tea Party Express; Patriotic Voices of America/Carolina Patriots vs. Myrtle Beach Tea Party; in Texas, a bunch of independent groups are pissed at the national Tea Party Patriots for ousting and suing founding board member Amy Kremer after she got too close to the louder, more radical Tea Party Express. The list of new internal TP squabbles (and the subsequent formation of new rebel groups) grows with the same intensity by which the TP movement grew (AstroTurfing or not) in the movement’s heyday.
But now, with Obama’s health-care agenda slowly, clumsily, but steadily moving ahead in the U.S. Senate, the TP’s internal problems within could not have come at a worst time.
“It’s a terrible time to be fragmented,” Kaplan told the Queblog. “People have the right of free speech, nothing wrong with that, but not to the extent that it causes the group to splinter. It makes us less effective in our mission, and that is disappointing.”
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