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The convention is being held at a fancy resort, features $550 ticket prices, a steak and lobster dinner and a guest speaker with a $100,000 speaking fee. It’s sponsored by a for-profit company with a mysterious wealthy benefactor, and its organizers, who have been accused of secrecy and corruption, have threatened lawsuits against dissenters and clamped down on news coverage. Sounds like just the kind of thing that tea party activists, whose populist outrage is directed at the Washington and Wall Street establishments, would be up in arms over. Except it’s a tea party convention.
At least two national groups that have emerged as major players in the movement rejected requests to buy sponsorships for the convention — which were going for as much $50,000 — while three other groups have recently withdrawn as sponsors, with two citing concerns over organizer infighting and questions about the convention’s unusual finances. Meanwhile, about 50 local tea party leaders from across Tennessee are planning to attend a sort of counter-convention caucus set for this Saturday in Nashville, while some activists are discussing staging protests outside next month’s convention, which will be held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center. The tensions swirling around the convention are in many ways emblematic of the ones that have plagued the tea party movement as a whole since soon after disaffected conservatives — many new to politics and unversed in organizing — flocked to congressional town halls and marches across the country to protest the big-spending initiatives pushed by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress. The national convention was envisioned as a way to move past the disputes by bringing together leading activists from across the country to share ideas, receive training and hear from tea party heroes such as Palin, the former Alaska governor, and Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).