Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit
When people think of the Tea Party movement, what comes to mind are the Tea Party Express rallies that received extensive coverage over the summer from FOX News. Tea Party Express began as a bus tour set up by Our Country Deserves Better PAC, a political action committee formed in 2008 to oppose then-presidential candidate Obama. The tour was intended to drum up opposition to health care reform, and was soon followed by a second tour, dramatically titled "Tea Party Express II: Countdown to Judgement Day". A third tour is in the works.
TeaPartyExpress.org lists Americans for Prosperity as a sponsor, as well as Grassfire.org and Our Country Deserves Better PAC. Tea Party Express has come under fire for Astroturfing by rival groups such as the Tea Party Patriots who claim it is directed by Republican strategists. Tea Party Express has even been dubbed "The Astroturf Express" by leaders of Tea Party Patriots. This appears to be primarily because of the group's association with Our Country Deserves Better PAC, which is closely affiliated with the Republican-affiliated consulting firm Russo Marsh & Associates. Past clients of the firm include the California Republican Party and disgraced Florida congressman Mark Foley.
Our Country Deserves Better PAC is helmed by former California State Assemblyman and failed Congressional candidate Howard Kaloogian. Lloyd Marcus, another Tea Party Express partner, is listed as a spokesman for the organization. Its chief strategist, Sal Russo, is a famous GOP operative who got his start working for Ronald Reagan's 1966 gubernatorial campaign and is now the principal of Russo Marsh & Associates. Joe Wierzbicki, PAC coordinator, is also a principal of the GOP-affiliated public relations firm Russo Marsh & Rogers (RM+R).
Grassfire.org, another Tea Party Express sponsor, has been promoted in the past by Craig Shirley of Shirley and Banister Public Affairs. The firm's clients include Aetna, Cigna and the Republican National Committee. Shirley is infamous for his work on the Willie Horton ad, a vicious piece of race-baiting that helped sink Democrat Mike Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign.
Read full coverage detailing the various parts of the Anatomy of the Tea Party Movement:
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