Tea party activists have long criticized President Barack Obama’s jobs agenda, and in doing so, they may have inadvertently created one of their own.
Several tea party leaders have found paid jobs for themselves in the movement as it evolves from an amateur grass-roots wave into a professional lobby.
Tennessee lawyer Judson Phillips became the latest to make the jump when he announced last week that he was devoting himself full time to Tea Party Nation, a change that means drawing a salary he would only describe as “under six figures.”
The controversial leader with a knack for getting media coverage runs a for-profit group best known for hosting a national convention last year that featured former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R). While Phillips has organized few grass-roots events since, he has been mentioned in the press more than 650 times in the past two years.
Recently, Phillips has been soliciting anonymous contributions to pay himself for his efforts to play a leading role in the upcoming debt ceiling debate and in the 2012 elections.
“The way politics is today, if you’re not capable of getting out there and putting some boots on the ground full time, you cannot be a key player,” Phillips told Roll Call.
His counterparts in the million-dollar Tea Party Express and Tea Party Patriots organizations have already made the leap by paying their lead activists to organize rallies, speak publicly and lobby Congressional staff.
Former flight attendant Amy Kremer said she has been earning $4,000 per month as chairwoman of Tea Party Express, a political action committee known for its nationwide bus tours promoting conservative candidates such as failed Senate contenders Sharron Angle in Nevada and Joe Miller in Alaska.
Jenny Beth Martin, who worked as a housekeeper and Home Depot manager before joining the movement, reportedly receives $6,000 per month as national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, a nonprofit coalition group. Martin is one of six such coordinators, four of whom are paid.
Both organizations have hired numerous staffers and consultants to promote the tea party principles of small government, free markets and individual liberties.
In doing so, the major tea party groups have started to resemble the professional special interest groups that tea party leaders openly criticize.
Tea Party Express, the PAC backed by Republican strategist Sal Russo, spent more than $450,000 on staff and consultants in the past two years, according to the group’s federal filings. More than half of the $7.6 million that the group collected went to operating expenditures including wages, fundraising and advertising.
In the months leading up to the midterm elections, the group had more than 40 consultants on its payroll.