Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit
Today marks the first full day of the National Tea Party Convention. Attendees will hear from speakers such as Judge Roy Moore, who was removed from the bench after refusing to move a monument to the Ten Commandments from a state judicial building. After sessions on such topics as "Why Christians Must Engage" and "Defeating Liberalism via the Primary Process," participants will finish the day listening to speeches from both Fox News contributor Angela McGlowan, who is also CEO of Republican consulting/strategy firm Political Strategies & Insights, as well as Joseph Farah, founder of conservative news giant World Net Daily.
Even before the convention started, it was mired in controversy. The organizer behind the convention, Tea Party Nation, has recently been the target of much criticism from the rest of the Tea Party movement. There has been outrage at the high cost of tickets--$349 for either the convention itself or Sarah Palin's speech, and $549 for both, with a $9.95 processing fee either way-- as well as disdain for what has been revealed to be a for-profit event. When the top sponsor of the event, American Liberty Alliance, publicly announced its support of the event, it was forced to publicly abandon its support only a day later, at the behest of influential ALA members. Even the Tea Party Express rescinded its offer to appear at the convention. This is a group which contemplated spending $200,000 of Tea Party donations on a Caribbean cruise
On January 30, Sherry Phillips, wife of Tea Party Nation president Judson Phillips, took it upon herself to write a comprehensive defense of TPN and the convention. In the letter, Phillips said Eric Odom, executive director of American Liberty Alliance, contacted her and Judson privately to express his support for the convention, saying he believed it would be "a huge success." That very day, Odom went on Fox News and said of the NTPC organizers (Sherry and Judson Phillips): "They don't know what's going on and haven't since day one."
According to Phillips's letter, American Liberty Alliance initially agreed to be the "Gold Sponsor" of the convention in exchange for the Tea Party Nation being listed as a "Gold Sponsor" of American Librty Alliance's Tax Day Tea Party in April. Phillips points out that, like Tea Party Nation, American Liberty Alliance follows a for-profit model.
In her letter, Sherry Phillips claimed the convention was sold out, with a waiting list of 500 names. In a story published on January 27, former NTPC Planning Committee member Tami Kilmarx told Mother Jones that Judson Phillips was considering giving away tickets to avoid the embarrassment of news outlets filming Palin's speech to a half-empty auditorium. Kilmarx said she wouldn't be surprised if Phillips filed for bankruptcy the day after the convention, which she said could "completely disintegrate."