Whatever ultimate political effect that Tea Party conservatism has on the country, one thing is increasingly clear: Being a high-profile leader of the small-government movement is very big business.
The movement’s popular appeal stems from grass-roots outrage over the bailout of America’s financial system, the expanded role of government, and the growing deficits. But the Tea Party has also been aggressively promoted by conservative media, political leaders and advocacy groups â€” and its broad appeal hasÂ blurred the distinctions among the three.
A year into this fledgling political movement’s life, reports are emerging of the huge money being made by Tea Party leaders. Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are in front of the pack, but a few new faces and a few old faces are also getting into the game.
The Big Money
â€¢ Former governor of Alaska, Fox News contributor, author, speaker
â€¢ $12 million
How she parties: In 2009, Sarah Palin resigned as Alaska governor after just 2Â½ years, allowing her to take full political and financial advantage of the explosive celebrity status she gained as John McCain’s 2008 White House running mate. Although her arrival on the national scene predated the birth of the Tea Party, she quickly became the politician in America most closely associated with it. This January, Palin signed on as a contributor for Fox News. In February, she delivered a keynote address at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Last month, she rallied Tea Party conservatives in Arizona to support McCain in a Republican primary and spoke out at the first stop on the recent Tea Party tour â€” an event organized around the bid to defeat Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his hometown of Searchlight, Nev.
How it pays: Wherever Palin goes, attention follows â€” and money usually comes with it. In a just-released cover story for New York Magazine, Gabriel Sherman details the growth of what the magazine calls “Palin Inc.” According to both Sherman and ABC News, Palin has gone from a state of indebtedness (due to legal troubles in Alaska) to estimated earnings of $12 million in less than a year.Â Palin makes $1 million a year for her contributions to Fox News. She sold her first book, “Going Rogue,” to HarperCollins for $7 million and a second book for an undisclosed amount. She gives speeches around the country for an average fee of $100,000 each. According to Sherman’s reporting, Palin insisted on charging full fee for her speech to the National Tea Party Convention because the event itself was being run for-profit by its organizers.Â The $100,000 included $18,000 for a private jet. Beyond her Tea Party activities, Palin has also signed up to star in a reality show on life in Alaska for the Learning Channel. She’ll reportedly be paid $250,000 per episode.
â€¢ Fox News host, radio host, author, speaker
â€¢ $32 million
How he parties: In the past decade Glenn Beck has transformed himself from a regional radio shock jock to a national multiplatform money-making juggernaut. And in the past year, he’s used his vast influence to help organize and motivate the Tea Party movement. Beck traveled to San Antonio, Texas, for the inaugural tax-day Tea Party protests in April 2009 and taped his show as he participated. The Tea Party protests in Washington in September drew inspiration from Beck’s 9-12 Project, which Beck describes as an effort to reclaim the spirit of national unity after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Beck often dedicates his television and radio shows to articulating the Tea Party worldview, such as concern with the growth of the federal government and the national debt, as well as perceived similarities between President Obama’s liberalism and European socialism, Soviet communism, and even German Nazism.
How it pays: Beck was blunt with Forbes Magazine when discussing his success. “I could give a flying crap about the political process,” he deadpanned. “We’re an entertainment company.” Forbes said that Beck’s company, Mercury Radio Arts, raked in $32 million from March 2009 to March 2010. That included $2 million from Fox News for his daily television show, $10 million for his daily radio show, $3 million for speaking events, $4 million from his online operation, and a whopping $13 million in print endeavors with Simon & Schuster (books and a magazine). Beck dominated the New York Times bestseller list in 2009, with three separate No. 1 books and a total of 3.5 million books sold.
The Solid Money
â€¢ Former House majority leader, former lobbyist, chairman of FreedomWorks
How he parties: Since leaving Congress in 2003, Armey, the former House Republican majority leader, has co-chaired the conservative D.C. advocacy organization FreedomWorks, initially while also representing clients of law and lobbying firmDLA Piper. FreedomWorks played a key part in organizing the Tea Party. The group helped coordinate the September rally in Washington and has consistently been one of the key D.C.-based groups to lend support, organizationally and financially, to the movement. Armey himself has been a regular featured speaker at Tea Party events and something of a spokesman for it on national TV shows like “Meet the Press.”
How it pays: You might say Armey has actually lost money because of his Tea Party role. Criticism of the fact that he continued to work for lobbying law firm DLA Piper while holding the chairmanship of FreedomWorks caused him to resign from the lobbying firm in August. According to the Dallas Morning News, that decision cost Armey $750,000 a year. Of course, Armey’s position at FreedomWorks still pays him $550,000 a year, and his Tea Party activities have greatly enhanced his public profile.
â€¢ Web publisher, author, pundit, speaker
How he parties: Breitbart is the owner of five websites (Breitbart.com, Breitbart.tv, BigHollywood.com, BigGovernment.com, and BigJournalism.com) and a regular speaker at Tea Party rallies across the country. He gave a keynote address at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville in February and will be giving the keynote at the National Tea Party Unity Convention in Las Vegas in July. Breitbart has become an outspoken critic of the left and defender of the Tea Party against what he sees as unfair media attacks.
How it pays: Breitbart certainly isn’t making Beck or Palin money. The staff he has for his websites is small and, according to a recent profile in Slate by Christopher Beam, the team only recently moved out of the basement of his Los Angeles home. But according to his business partner, Breitbart’s network of sites is now attracting over 10 million unique readers a month and generating over 40 million pageviews. If those numbers are correct, Breitbart’s bare bones staff is attracting an audience as big as a large regional newspaper, and millions of dollars of revenue could follow. Breitbart says he plans to expand his empire soon by launching three more sites: Big Peace, Big Education and Big Tolerance. Breitbart was also paid $500,000 for an upcoming book, “Thinking Big.”
â€¢ cable news and opinion network
How they party: Fox has played a key role in promoting the Tea Party. For the first set of protests in April 2009, the network sent opinion hosts and news reporters around the country to broadcast live from the events. The Fox News website listed where viewers could find a Tea Party in their area. Since those first events, it’s been a leading topic on the channel, and pundits like Palin, Beck and Sean Hannity promote it enthusiastically. The channel did draw the line, however, when Hannity tried to tape a show at a Tea Party rally and fundraiser in Cincinnati.
How it pays: Fox had its best ratings year ever in 2009. While much of that is due to the continued dominance of consevative host Bill O’Reilly, who is less directly involved in Tea Party activism and promotions, it’s also a result of Beck’s record-breaking success for the network in Fox’s 5 p.m. slot. More viewers means more money from advertisers means more revenue for Fox News and its parent company News Corp.Â According to the New York Times, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes made $23 million in 2009 for his role in that success. This year may be even better: According to Gabriel Sherman, every time Palin appears on the channel, ratings shoot up 10 to 15 percent.