Mark Meckler, a top Tea Party leader, has worked hard to position the movement as a grassroots uprising, independent of both political parties. But just a few years ago, Meckler was involved in an online political consulting firm with ties to the GOP — a fact that could intensify the fears of some Tea Party activists that their movement is being hijacked by Republican political operatives.
Since last year, Meckler, a northern California lawyer, has emerged as one of two national leaders and spokespeople for the Tea Party Patriots, giving frequent interviews to national news outlets. Working closely with the Atlanta-based Jenny Beth Martin, Meckler has helped build TPP into perhaps the largest and most prominent of the various Tea Party factions. If the notoriously decentralized Tea Party movement can be said to have a spokesman, Meckler has as good a claim to the title as just about anyone.
Meckler has presented himself as an ordinary country lawyer, motivated to get involved, like so many other Americans, by Rick Santelli’s famous rant. The Wall Street Journal recently described him as one of the “political novices” running the movement. Even one of Meckler’s many email addresses seems designed to make a point — it begins: “mark.grassroots.”
Meckler has also been careful to disavow any connection between TPP and the Republican Party, and eager to tout the group’s independence. Meckler didn’t respond to an interview request for this story, but he told TPMmuckraker in January that “the major parties in this nation haven’t represented the American people.” Last month he told NewsMax: “Anybody who expects tea party members to vote based on party lines fundamentally misunderstands the movement … The tea party movement is made up of people who value principle above party.” And CNN reported last that Meckler and Martin say they are “frustrated that other Tea Party groups are being run by Republican political consultants forking over lots of cash for recruitment” — a reference to the Tea Party Express, which is run by a GOP consulting firm.
None of this is untrue, exactly. But it leaves out the fact that Meckler appears to have aspired relatively recently to be a Republican political consultant himself. A few years ago, Meckler was listed as the general counsel for Unique Leads and Unique Lists, two related online marketing firms that specialize in building email lists on behalf of clients. In that capacity, Meckler also wrote online columns on the subject of internet privacy — a subject in which many online marketers, anxious to avoid running afoul of anti-spam and other laws, have a keen interest.
At some point, it appears, Meckler spun off his involvement with Unique Leads to help develop a new firm, Opt-In Movement, that aimed to build email lists on behalf of political clients. Opt-In’s website — which according to internet records was registered in 2007 — suggests that the firm aspired to work on behalf of Republican candidates and causes. One page shows examples of its work, which includes mock web pages for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid, Rep. Jeff Flake, Freedom’s Watch, and the College Republican National Committee. The site notes that some of these examples were “designed as demonstration pieces to show the broad variety of our in-house abilities.”
There’s no indication on the site itself that Meckler is involved with Opt-In. A contact page lists only the email address email@example.com. But what appears to be an earlier contact page — no longer accessible from the main site, but still online — lists Meckler as the firm’s contact, and provides a phone number that goes to Unique Leads.
Meckler also appears to have forged ties with other GOP consultants. A November 2007 blog post on the website TechRepublican.com — which was created by the D.C.-based GOP consultant David All — declares: “Mark Meckler told us about Opt-In Movement which offers a no risk-way for conservative political candidates and organizations to quickly and effectively build their email lists.” The post also notes that All’s firm, the David All Group, — which describes itself as “the nation’s first Republican Web 2.0 agency” — is “a partner with Opt-In Movement.”
It’s not clear how much success Opt-In has had. Its website appears not to have been updated for several years, and Meckler reportedly sent out an email to friends and family recently asking for financial assistance, after devoting much of his time over the last year to Tea Party activism.
It stands to reason that Meckler hasn’t been eager to trumpet this part of his background. Grassroots Tea Partiers have lately raised the alarm about what many of them see as the hijacking of their movement by the Republican party and its consultants. In addition to Tea Party Express, they cite last month’s National Tea Party Convention — which had Sarah Palin as its keynote speaker and had also invited two GOP members of Congress to speak — and the recent meeting that some Tea Partiers held with RNC chair Michael Steele.
Through this turmoil, Meckler and the Tea Party Patriots have emerged as a kind of enforcer of the Tea Party movement’s political independence, denouncing Tea Party Express and pointedly keeping their distance from the convention and the Steele confab. “Some people call for unity because they want to be the leader,” Meckler said in a recent interview. “You see that with the GOP; they’re trying to co-opt the movement as hard as they can.”
Late Update: Meckler also is being paid by a California Republican business group to gather petition signatures for a ballot initiative that’s long been a key goal of the state GOP, TPMmuckraker reports.