Tea party may lose local members to 'less partisan' group

Editor's note: This is corrected from an earlier version.

Hartford - Some local members are considering abandoning tea party groups and instead joining Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots organization aimed at educating and mobilizing citizens around economic policy issues.

"In the last 2½ years, the liberal press and Democrats have demonized the tea party to the point where when someone mentions it, they kind of roll their eyes and say 'those' people," said Norbert "Bud" Fay, chairman of Waterford Tea Party Patriots, which will be ending its alliance with the Tea Party Patriots.

Each tea party group and member will have to make its own choice as to whether to switch to the Americans for Prosperity group, stay with the tea party or become members of both.

Supporters of the change say that Americans for Prosperity has a better connotation, can raise funds and advertise, and is about issues and not a particular political party. However, Americans for Prosperity is said to have worked with the tea party, and several tea party locals say the two groups' philosophies are quite similar.

Fay said he is moving to Americans for Prosperity and plans to serve as chairman of Americans for Prosperity Shoreline.

The 55 to 60 members of the Waterford Tea Party Patriots group, members of Americans for Prosperity in New London County and the public are invited to the new group’s meeting at 7 p.m. on July 24 at the Waterford Public Library, Fay said.

He said Americans for Prosperity has more than 6,000 members in New London County.

The last meeting of the Waterford Tea Party Patriots will be from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the library, Fay said. At the meeting, members will discuss termination of the group's alliance with the Tea Party Patriots and ask whether anyone wants to take over as chairman, Fay said in an email.

Mike Hannan, member of the Waterford Tea Party Patriots group, said he is switching to Americans for Prosperity because there are more fundraising opportunities and more the potential to get more people involved.

As a 501(c)4, Americans for Prosperity may collect tax-deductible funds and use them for advertising, fliers and getting out the vote, he said.

He said he also favors the group because it has a local and state focus and "seems to be non-partisan."

Fay said, "We are more inclined to have an organization that is not Republican or Democrat. It is a non-political, political organization."

The group was founded in 2004 by David H. and Charles G. Koch of Koch Industries. It has worked closely with conservative groups, according to news reports.

Joseph Romano, state director for Americans for Prosperity-Connecticut, said the Connecticut chapter's aim is to educate voters and advocate for issues such as economic freedom, cutting taxes, school choice and right to work.

"These are issues that tea party people share," he said.

Jen Ezzell, organizer of the Second District Tea Party Patriots, said not all tea party groups in Connecticut would switch. She said she has an email list of 1,500 people and it would be up to each of them to decide for themselves.

She said she didn't think local tea party groups would disappear. She said her group has been encouraging members to make an impact by serving on school boards, state central committees and town committees.

"The tea party movement is about keeping people informed and close to the source (of information) as possible," she said.

Americans for Prosperity plans to create legislative score cards on particular issues.

"We are about policy, not politics," Romano said.

Hannan, of the Waterford Tea Party Patriots group, said he hopes Americans for Prosperity would help inform people in southeastern Connecticut and would have an impact on elections, local to gubernatorial.

"(Residents) could tell you more what is going on with Beyonce or TMZ than local government," Hannan said. "It's discouraging sometimes because you feel like you are banging your head against a wall."

j.somers@theday.com

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