'Tea' Groups Duel over GOP Links
'Libertarian'-leaning Foundation takes aim at Central Florida races
Around the State
Florida's frothy tea party movement has stirred in another volatile ingredient: the Tea Party Foundation.
The new electioneering communication organization, listing Abby Dupree of Tallahassee as its agent, registered with the state Division of Elections last month.
Phil Russo, an Orlando-based "consultant" for the fledgling ECO, said the group's primary goal is to "educate people on the differences between the grass-roots tea party movement and the political party, which is run by former GOP consultants to split the vote and hand elections to Democrats."
Russo's reference to the Florida TEA ("Taxed Enough Already") Party -- headed by two other Orlando area politicos, Frederic O'Neal and Doug Guetzloe -- drew an equally sharp response.
"(The Foundation) is obviously an attempt to end-run the TEA Party and pretend like this GOP front is a real tea party group," Guetzloe said.
Russo says that characterization does not apply to him or the Foundation.
"The media narrative suggests that the tea parties are shills for the Republicans. I'm not a registered Republican. I hate Republicans. I'm a Libertarian," he said, noting his support for gay marriage, legalization of marijuana and opposition to the Patriot Act.
But before raising or spending a dime on electioneering, the Foundation is sending mixed signals about its independence from the Republican Party.
Dupree, listed as the group's original registered agent and treasurer, is also treasurer of Republican Sen. George LeMieux's Protect America's Future PAC, which funnels funds to GOP candidates.
Dupree also was the contact for the "Jim Greer for Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida" campaign committee.
The official purpose of that committee, established in November 2006, was "to provide support related to the cost of running for the Republican Party of Florida's chairman position." It raised and spent $339,780, doing so before it disbanded with Greer's ouster in 2009.
Russo said he did not know of Dupree's involvement in the Greer organization.
"If I had known, I would never have called her," he said.
Dupree declined to be interviewed and referred all questions to Russo.
Russo said the Foundation, which is recruiting a new treasurer, will focus on "state-level campaigns in Central Florida." He would not identify which races on the record.
"We want to leverage legislation on an Arizona-style immigration law, conceal-carry and open-carry (gun) laws, and a state budget that actually decreases spending," he said.
As for the libertarian agenda of gay marriage and legalized pot? "We're not there yet," Russo acknowledged.
Despite his "hate" for Republicans, Russo told Sunshine State News that he is working on Republican Todd Long's campaign in the 8th Congressional District.
That race features seven GOP hopefuls and TEA Party candidate Peg Dunmire vying to unseat first-term Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando.
Russo said that he would vote for Dunmire in the fall if Daniel Webster or Bruce O'Donoghue -- two of the Republicans in the race -- were to win the GOP nomination.
But in other Central Florida races, Russo suggested that the Tea Party Foundation will oppose TEA candidates who could jeopardize Republicans' chances.
"It doesn't matter if (the TEA candidates) are perfectly in line with issues, because of who they're involved with," Russo said. "It's like hanging out with Rev. (Jeremiah) Wright."
Citing his tea bona fides, Russo said, "I was one of the founding members of the tea party movement nationally, and the decision was made early on not to form a third party. Doug Guetzloe just wants a payday."
Guetzloe, who was booted out of the Republican Party by Greer, maintains that the Foundation is "a (Republican Party of Florida) goon squad of Cannon and McCollum operatives."
Dean Cannon, the House speaker-designate, and Bill McCollum, who is battling Rick Scott for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, are both Central Florida politicians who are closely linked financially.
Leadership committees associated with Cannon and Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos have funneled more than $1 million to organizations backing McCollum.
Cannon is opposed by TEA candidate Juanita Virone and Democrat Amy Mercado. Haridopolos was effectively re-elected when his lone opponent, TEA Party candidate John Ferentinos, was removed from the ballot for incomplete filing papers.
All told, the TEA Party is fielding 21 candidates this fall.
Russo said neither he nor the Foundation is party to the pending federal lawsuit against the Florida TEA Party. The suit, filed by a consortium of other tea organizations, alleges that O'Neal and Guetzloe illegally appropriated the use of the name.
"After this, maybe Guetzloe will want me in with them," Russo mused.
Guetzloe says that's possible.
"This bogus 'tea party' group is being set up by the same RPOF dirty tricks squad that has set up the previous committees that are funding the McCollum attack ads.
"This time they have violated the law and they will be held accountable. They cannot use the name 'tea party' in a political committee any more than anyone else can use 'Republican Party of Florida Foundation, Inc.'"
Russo said that once the Foundation is up and running, it intends to "take a page out of Saul Alinsky's book, 'Rules for Radicals.'"
"I've seen ACORN busing people to the polls on Election Day and handing out sandwiches. We won't do that, but if we want to have a protest in South Florida, and people need a ride, well, we might have a bus for them," he said.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 559-4719.