The first-ever national Tea Party Convention, slated to begin Thursday at the Gaylord Opryland hotel in Nashville, has drawn numerous attacks among the conservative grassroots and seemed to falter over the past week as two of its marquee speakers, Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) pulled out.
Now, its organizers have spoken out.
"Judson and I have stayed silent in the face of intense media scrutiny and attacks by former members," Sherry Phillips, wife of the convention's chief originator, wrote in an e-mail to members Saturday. "We will stay silent no longer."
The Phillips-owned group Tea Party Nation, which is organizing the event, sent a note to supporters on Saturday, hitting back at criticisms and addressing reasons why various sponsors have dropped affiliations, why the lawmakers won't be speaking, why former members have been banned, its relationship with a business loan originator and a for-profit former sponsor, and its PayPal account.
And they say they are not running the operation for profit: they expect to break even (maybe with a few thousand dollars left over to help run their group), they say, and that Tea Party Nation is incorporated as a C corporation but is run as a non-profit.
Bachmann and Blackburn, Phillips says, pulled out in part due to conflicting information they received from the House ethics committee; the American Liberty Alliance, an influential Tea Party-aligned group, pulled sponsorship due to displeasure of anonymous backers, Tea Party Nation says.
The event's keynote speaker, Sarah Palin, is still on the schedule to speak at its closing banquet Saturday night. Palin's unconfirmed speaking fee, thought to be in the vicinity of $100,000, has caused some of the controversy, as did the convention's $549 ticket prices ($349 just to see Palin). Some activists have alleged that such fees contradict the spirit of a grassroots movement.
See the full statement e-mailed by Sherry Phillips, wife of event originator Judson Phillips, below:
A message to all members of Tea Party Nation
Setting The Record Straight
by Sherry Phillips
Judson and I have stayed silent in the face of intense media scrutiny and attacks by former members. As a wife and a mother, I have stood by my husband and family and stayed strong in the face of many baseless accusations and criticism. We have refrained from responding to many of the attacks that have been thrown at us from other "Tea Party" groups, in the belief we did not want to spread the divisions that are already hurting this movement even though that does not seem to be the consideration of some others involved in this movement. Because of the many TPN members' requests and encouragement, I have decided to provide comment about Tea Party Nation and the National Tea Party Convention. We will stay silent no longer. I hope my comments and the issues I deal with in this note will provide some clarity.
American Liberty Alliance - Eric Odom's American Liberty Alliance is a for profit company that takes donations. We agreed to a sponsorship exchange where ALA would be a gold sponsor of the convention and we would be a gold sponsor of the Tax Day Tea Party. Shortly after agreeing to this exchange, Eric emailed Judson and me privately saying he was supportive of us and this convention and did not want to pull out, because he thinks this convention is going to be a huge success; however, some his "influential supporters" were not happy about ALA's participation in the convention and asked Eric to withdraw.
American Majority - After stating in the beginning they wanted to co-sponsor the convention, they never answered repeated emails sent asking them for confirmation of their attendance. They did not promote the convention and did not put the convention on their calendar. In fact Ned Ryun spent 5 minutes in an interview on Fox News talking about the Tea Party movement and did not mention the convention at all. Meanwhile, another training organization contacted us asking if they could become a sponsor and if they could do a breakout session. We gladly accepted and gave them American Majority's spots. On January 6, Ned's assistant sent an email stating she was making travel arrangements for them to come and participate in the convention and asked when did we have their breakouts scheduled. I told her because of their non-response, we gave American Majority's slots to this other organization. They then requested that their logo be removed from the Convention website. We complied with their request.
Tea Party Express - This group has been very supportive of us. They intended to do a small tour, culminating in an event Saturday afternoon prior to the banquet. Because of their efforts in the Scott Brown race and their intent to go after Harry Reid in Nevada, they simply cannot make the trip. We received a very nice email from them explaining their actions and restating their invitation to join them when they kick off their next tour in March. We will be there. We fully support their endeavors as they open their next tour in Nevada this spring.
Campaign for Liberty - We actively sought out Campaign for Liberty as a sponsor of this convention. We were contacted several weeks ago by the TN Director for CFL who wanted to co-sponsor the convention and I put him in touch with our Sponsorship Chair. We have not heard anything from them since.
Former Tea Party Nation Members - Several former members were unanimously banned from our site for reasons running the gamut from antagonism to passing on confidential information. These members have been blogging, as well as discussing their association with liberal media outlets and conspiring with each other to, "Take TPN and this convention down".
In one of their more egregious statements a former member wrote that Judson stated, "I want to make a million dollars from this movement." Judson has never made this statement. He has stated on numerous occasions that he would like TPN to have a million members all fighting for the cause of conservatism!
Bill Hemrick - Mr. Hemrick made a business loan to Tea Party Nation at a commercial interest rate. This loan has been paid back in full. That is the full extent of any relationship we have had with Mr. Hemrick.
Congressmen Bachmann and Blackburn - Both Congresswomen have large targets on their backs and are rightfully concerned about backlash they will receive from the left-leaning Democrat controlled House Ethics Committee. Because of the complexity of the Ethics Code regarding House Representatives, we have no doubt the Democrats would have found something in that code to cause them problems once the convention was over. We were also informed by Rep. Bachmann that both were being told two different
things by the House Ethics Committee in regard to their participation. This of course sent up red flags to everyone involved. We do not blame either Congressman for their decision to withdraw from the convention and maintain a strong relationship with them both.
Tea Party Nation - Last February after Judson held one of the first tea parties in the country in downtown Nashville, he came up with the idea for a social networking site for conservatives. Judson and I created Tea Party Nation. We formed the corporation. We financed the corporation. We bought the domain name teapartynation.com, we purchased the servers and we pay for the monthly expenses. We are a C-Corp and do not accept donations. Tea Party Nation charges nothing to be a member and is run entirely by volunteers. Recently, we have been able to start charging for advertising on the
site to help defray the costs of running the site.
As TPN has stated since its formation, we are not a non-profit. We prefer to offer free membership to conservative patriots so they may participate in the political process of restoring this nation to its founding principles without financial burdens, hardships or roadblocks to prevent their participation. Members are then able to choose their own way to spend their money without any involvement from TPN.
PayPal Account - We are using a business PayPal account for the convention. An email address is required to notify a contact when payment is received and we are using my TPN email account at firstname.lastname@example.org as that notification email address. All money in that account is transferred directly into the TPN business bank account.
We fully expect to break even during this event. We may even make a few thousand dollars to cover local operating costs of TPN. We have made the best of a tight budget and scaled back the price of attending this convention as much as we could without putting TPN into bankruptcy. The convention is sold out and we have a waiting list of
over five hundred people. We never did this to make us rich or
famous. Quite the contrary, we are patriots who love our country, our
members and the people who are coming to Nashville to attend this great
For all of you who will be attending, we look forward to meeting you this upcoming week and we thank everyone for the support and patriotism in this fight against liberalism. God bless you all and I thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement.
Visit Tea Party Nation at: http://www.teapartynation.com/?xg_source=msg_mes_network