A dissenting group of Southeast Texas Tea Party Patriot members have taken their displeasure with the direction of the local movement headed by President Ralph McBride to the courtroom by filing a lawsuit against McBride for his handling of the group’s finances and how the group is currently constituted.
Ryan Gertz, who is representing the nearly two-dozen disenchanted members calling themselves the “Spindletop Patriots,” stated in a letter to McBride that his clients believe McBride is liable for “damages stemming from fraud, negligent misrepresentation, conspiracy, and civil theft under Texas law.”
“What the letter is really saying,” Gertz said, “is that we don’t want to take your money from you; we want to sit down and mediate this and reconstitute this organization as a membership organization where we are shareholders and not contributors, and we want a full accounting of where every dime has gone since April of 2009. And we want open and fair elections.”
The Southeast Texas Tea Party is a local manifestation of a national political movement that challenges the sovereignty of the federal government and calls for a return to the democratic principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
The fracturing of the local group has been building since members have been at odds over items as important as the transparency of the group’s finances to items as benign as meeting schedule changes and who’s allowed to know why the schedule was changed. The turning point was finally reached at a meeting Thursday, Feb. 17, when an Examiner reporter who was invited by a Southeast Texas Tea Party Patriot member was asked to leave by Tea Party member Julie Melancon. This was a mere three days after The Examiner’s managing editor Jerry Jordan sat through another Tea Party meeting, in which McBride showed him a profit/loss sheet regarding a fundraiser being questioned by the new Spindletop Patriots. He was aware the newspaper would be covering the Thursday event and offered to provide additional information that had been requested for review.
However, several attempts to reach McBride for this article were unsuccessful and he did not return multiple messages left for him on his cell phone. Additionally, attempts to obtain IRS 990 Forms related to McBride’s group were unsuccessful because they were not on file with Guidestar, a group that monitors not-for-profit organizations.
At the Thursday meeting, the reporter who was asked to leave was told the meeting was closed and his invitation from another member was “incorrect.”
According to people who attended the meeting from which the reporter was dismissed, the discussion grew heated after members asked for more transparency of the group’s business, yet they were told that “nothing was going to change,” and thus a group of nearly 15 members walked out.
One of the primary problems the dissenting group has with McBride is that he created a nonprofit corporation out of the Southeast Texas Tea Party Patriots, also known as a 501(c)(4). Yet when McBride was completing the paperwork for the creation of the corporation, he decided that the corporation would have no members, according to the official filing document obtained by The Examiner.
That categorization goes against the group’s Web site on www.meetup.com, which lists 943 “Patriots” as part of the SETX Tea Party Patriots, and in the group’s message on its site, it stresses that each “member is the core of the Tea Party!”
Just below the group’s message is an encouragement to donate money.
“We’ve given our time, donated money, we’ve done block walks, and for Ralph McBride to incorporate (SETX Tea Party) without members and not disclose it to the members, that’s not right,” said Peggy Harris, one of the co-organizers of the Spindletop Patriots, at the group’s first meeting Monday night.
For Gertz, McBride’s decision was mind boggling. “It’s not like he can say ‘I just never thought about having members,’” Gertz said, “it gives you the option of members or no members; it’s one of the boxes that you check! And he went with no members!”
And McBride’s decision to incorporate the group with no members yet continue to collect money from Tea Partiers who thought they were members is the problem, according to Gertz.
“What makes matters worse, after he’s incorporated the group in September (2009), this is kind of when the fraud takes over. … Now he’s taking their money and intentionally telling them they are members on an ongoing basis so that he can get their money even though they’re not members, and have absolutely no control of where their money’s going.”
Another major question of the dissenting members is where all the donated money has gone since the first $3,000 donation was made to the SETX Tea Party from the Golden Triangle Republican Women’s group in April of 2009.
Several of the members of the Spindletop Patriots were upset because each time they raised the question of where the funds were going, they were met with resistance from McBride and the other leaders of the Southeast Texas Tea Party. In fact, in a recent open meeting, when Jack Sammons, who is a co-organizer of the Spindletop Patriots, asked for the financial accounting of the Southeast Texas Tea Party, he was told that he was “not privy” to that information.
What is becoming clear is that it is hard to determine who is privy to the Southeast Texas Tea Party’s financial information, because Gertz said that he has not been able to identify what bank the corporation is actually using or how much money has actually been raised.
“That’s what’s particularly bad about this,” Gertz said of the unsolved financial questions. “Under 501(c)(4) status, they’re supposed to be filing yearly reports to the IRS about their finances, and we don’t have any information, and they’re not turning it over. So essentially, I’ve got clients who are liable to the IRS as members of this group that they’re not actually members of.”
Gertz isn’t sure if McBride even knows where the money is going.
“If he’s taking the money, where’s he taking it to? We don’t know where the money went and we don’t know what the money’s being used to accomplish,” Gertz said.
Both Gertz and Sammons cited an example where the Southeast Texas Tea Party group spent $11,000 last month to bring Michael Berry, a conservative talk show host from Houston, to speak in Beaumont. The problem with that, according to both men, was that the group was never asked nor voted on bringing Berry down and how much the Tea Party would spend to make it happen.
The letter from Gertz is not the first letter that has been sent to McBride regarding concerns from members of the Southeast Texas Tea Party. Sammons handed out a letter at a meeting in early February addressed to McBride that thanked him for all that he has done in leading the Tea Party; however, Sammons expressed in the letter that he and others were concerned “that their voices were not being heard and their questions were being answered with condescension, ridicule and character assassination.”
Sammons said he was never given an opportunity to explain the letter to other members in an open meeting and his requests were ignored.
Sammons, who has been a longtime Southeast Texas Tea Party Patriot member, does not want this problem with McBride and some of the other leadership members to drag down what has been a successful organization in promoting change in Southeast Texas. He maintains that this flap is not indicative of what the Tea Party represents in Southeast Texas and that there are plenty of good, hard working people who espouse what the Tea Party is all about.
“The Tea Party has proven its usefulness to the community, and has proved it well prior to now,” Sammons said. “We just want to continue it. I’ve got projects I want to get done. True the Vote, for the example, and we want to discover all the voting fraud here in Jefferson County. We’ve got projects to do locally. We’re not in this to destroy the Tea Party; we just had questions we had the right to ask, and the response we got brought this on.”