News Story

Fake Tea Brewing

A movement to start a third party called "Tea Party" that doesn't have the support of the tea party movement will not work, a long-time Democrat consultant said Thursday.

Mark Grebner, a Democrat Ingham County Commissioner who runs Practical Political Consulting in East Lansing, called the effort "sneaky" and said it didn't have the front people to gain acceptance among the voters.

Earlier this week, Republican strategist Chetly Zarko uncovered a petition drive underway to create a third party called the "Tea Party." The petition drive has upset tea party officials who say they want no such thing.

Some say it's a liberal plot to take tea party votes away from Republicans.

What is hard to find is any information about who is behind the movement for a Tea Party political group.

Zarko said the petition drives are being done by Progressive Campaigns Inc. It is based out of California. PCI President Angelo Paparella referred all questions to a phone number. Messages left on that number were not returned.

"We are absolutely not involved." said John Tramontana, spokesman for the Michigan Democratic Party. "That is all we are saying on the matter,"

The Secretary of State said they have no knowledge of the petition drive except to confirm it has been started. Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, said the group must get 38,013 valid signatures by July 15 to get on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Grebner said the group faces many obstacles, the biggest of which is that no one will admit to being behind the movement.

"It feels like a scheme," Grebner said. "I don't think it is going to work."

The goal is to have people vote for candidates that are with this newly formed Tea Party. Grebner estimated that could take anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of the vote away from the GOP candidates.

Grebner said if the group got the number of signatures needed by July 15, that would give it less than three weeks to hold a convention to select candidates by Aug. 2.

There would be a lawsuit filed by the legitimate tea party movement. And to be a legitimate political party, Grebner said there has to be someone to step forward and acknowledge it is a reality.

"They can't even find anyone to stand up in front of people for a press conference," Grebner said. "Today, there is literally no person that they can send out to talk to you. I mean, the Michigan Militia has somebody to talk to you. ... Without the street carnival, it is hard to make it work. Somebody is going to file these petitions and they would be wearing a fake beard."

Tea party activists said they were upset that a group could be trying to misrepresent itself to hurt the tea party, but it was not unexpected.

"They are underhanded, dirty people," said Tina Dupont, one of the founders of the Tea Party of West Michigan. "It is the typical liberal model. You can't do it fairly, let's do it underhanded."

Glenn Clark, a member of the Oakland County Tea Party and a GOP activist, said he doesn't think it will work. "I think people are going to be smarter than this. With the advent of Twitter and facebook and other social networking websites, people will understand this is a desperate ploy to prop up a rotten regime, which is the Democratic state party and its allies and organized labor, which support state taxes and big spending."

Zarko, who also does petition drives as a GOP consultant, said it's likely that for an organization like CPI it would be a "relatively easy task" to get the required signatures.

Zarko said he uncovered the plot when a person who had collected signatures in the past contacted him and explained what was going on.

Then, a petitioner who was collecting signatures mistakenly called Zarko and left him a message about the difficulty of collecting signatures. Later, that petitioner gave Zarko contact information for the people running the drive.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.