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A Cardboard Cutout of a Caucus
Congressmen who support tea-party values should form a new caucus. The old one should disband.

Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R., Minn.) speaks at a press conference on May 16.

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This means, according to the IRS, that “an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).” This definition is meant to exclude organizations devoted to the welfare of a small group or created as a tax dodge for their founders, not to keep the organizations free of political taint.

Both progressives and conservatives create tax-exempt, issue-oriented foundations (to which contributions are tax-deductible) under section 501(c)(3). The foundations do not engage in political activity but can be paired with 501(c)(4)s, which do engage in political activity and to which contributions are not tax-deductible. The NRA and the Sierra Club, for example, both have 501(c)(4)s.

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It is plausible to conclude that the administration adopted a successful program of using the IRS to suppress conservative votes while encouraging its own allies — unions, public employees, progressive 501(c)(4)s, etc. The administration may in fact have stolen an election. The House, which could have stopped the abuse, was crippled by the hibernation of its most likely instrument, the Tea Party Caucus.

Theories about the reasons for the failure are easy to find. The simplest is that Bachmann is a bad manager. Preoccupied with her presidential campaign and under fire for her tea-party connections, she found her position as chair of the CTPC inconvenient, and so she neglected it. Then, because the Hill is a hive where the whims of a member outweigh the needs of outsiders, including the nation, no one was so rude as to object that the organization had been neutered at a crucial time.

One can add some conspiracy theories. Blogger Ann Althouse asks: Why didn’t Romney root out these scandals before the last election? Why didn’t the Republicans? One hypothesis:

Obama’s prime target was the Tea Party (which had crushed him in the 2010 midterms), and the establishment Republicans were at odds with the Tea Party movement. I’m not saying I believe this, but sober reflection tells us we need to redraw the line between paranoia and vigilance. The theory is that establishment Republicans appreciated the suppression of the Tea Party.  

I have no trouble believing that establishment Republicans were not upset by the attack on the tea parties. After all, I live in Washington, D.C., where the air is thick with demonization. The CTPC’s members may be happy for the organization to remain a secret society. They can whisper to their constituents that they belong, and then avoid having to take the heat for it in Georgetown.

The demonization of the tea parties has had an impact. In January 2013, to the great delight of the MSM, Rasmussen reported that only 8 percent of voters called themselves members of the Tea Party, down from 24 percent in 2010; 49 percent had an unfavorable view of it, 30 percent favorable.

But not so fast. The glass is also half full, and the current scandals have boosted the Tea Party’s fortunes. Despite three years of unrelenting, vicious attacks, it now has the approval of 40 percent of the voters, with 17 percent undecided, in an ABC–Washington Post poll released earlier this month. In an NBC–Wall Street Journal poll in January, only 26 percent of voters approved of the Republican party. More recently, only 22 percent approved of the Republican leadership in Congress; 68 percent disapproved. Who is dragging down whom?

The existing CTPC should disband. A cadre of tea-party defenders on Capitol Hill is needed now, and members of Congress should not defer to each other’s whims in this matter. Members who believe in tea-party values, and who are willing to say so, should form a new caucus. And then the movement can advance. Support from 40 percent of voters even after years of attacks is a good base to start from.

— James V. DeLong is the author of Ending Big SIS (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic. A tea-party activist, he blogs at Conservatives4Palin



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