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Profile: Ernest Istook

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Ernest Istook was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Tea Party Patriots (TPP—see August 24, 2010), one of the most influential of national “umbrella” tea party organizations, announces the receipt of a $1 million donation for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. The TPP refuses to disclose the name of the donor. Two thousand eight hundred local tea party groups are eligible for money from the grant, and the TPP says it will distribute all of the monies by October 4. TPP’s Mark Meckler says: “This particular fund is intended to be applied for and spent by the [November midterm] election. The people who get the grants are required to spend them by election day.” TPP policy advisor Ernie Istook, a former Republican congressman, calls the donation “fertilizer for the grassroots.” Istook continues: “If you have a lawn, you water it, you tend to it, you weed it. That’s what’s happening here. And it is unique. I can’t think of anything quite like it happening before.” The TPP has said it will not endorse particular candidates for office, unlike another “umbrella” tea party organization, Tea Party Express and that group’s affiliated PAC. TPP official Jenny Beth Martin says the money is not to be used to endorse or attack individual candidates. Instead, she says: “What we’re doing is what our 2,800 local groups on the ground have been asking us to do. We’re not taking advantage of a loophole. What we’re making sure is that we support the local organizers on the ground.” Meckler adds, “We want to make sure people are out there voting for fiscal responsibility.” However, as the elections approach, tea party groups begin speculating where exactly the money is going. The TPP consistently refuses to disclose what groups receive money, or how much is disbursed. Dee Park of the Moore Tea Citizens in Moore County, North Carolina, is one who wonders about the money. “We wrote what we thought was a terrific proposal, but they didn’t fund it,” she says. No one from the TPP has contacted Park to inform her that her proposal was turned down. Appeals from other tea party groups asking for information about the money disbursement have been ignored—though the TPP regularly sends out appeals for more donations. Rhode Island tea party organizer Marina Peterson is in a similar position to Park; she submits a proposal for five groups in her area, but never hears anything from the TPP. Asked by a reporter if she knows who is receiving grants, she replies, “Wouldn’t we all like to know?” She says she was concerned from the outset about the anonymous nature of the donation, telling the reporter: “How do we know we want to take that money if we don’t know who the person is? What if it was [liberal billionaire] George Soros?” (see January - November 2004) Peterson says that every political organization, including the TPP and local tea parties, should be upfront and transparent about their funding. She recalls asking Meckler via email about the grant, and says that “[h]e went completely on the defensive when I asked him about it.” Meckler later tells Peterson that the TPP would not release information about the grant recipients to “shield” them from any controversy associated with the donation. Two groups do admit to receiving donations. The Chico Tea Party in California received $5,000, which it says it is spending on buying advertising on highway billboards. And the Nevada County, California, Tea Party Patriots received $10,000, which it says it is spending on billboards and newspaper ads. The Nevada County organization is headed by Stan Meckler, Mark Meckler’s father. The Chico organization says 12 groups in California have received money, though it does not disclose their names. Arizona tea partiers say they have used grant money to buy radio and billboard ads, but refuse to disclose amounts. And the TPP’s Florida coordinator Everett Wilkinson says his South Florida Tea Party received funding, but refuses to disclose an amount. Reporter Stephanie Mencimer writes: “This scuffle over the secret donation is symbolic of the internal conflict within the tea party movement. There are tea party activists who believe the movement’s rhetoric about transparency and accountability. But the movement also includes leaders and others who are willing to engage in and tolerate the funny-money games of business-as-usual politics. With the elections likely to enhance the political clout of the tea party movement, this tension between principles and practices is likely to intensify. After all, can tea partiers really claim they are ‘we the people’ when they are being subsidized by secret millionaires and guided by leaders who refuse to be accountable to those very people?” [Slate, 9/21/2010; Mother Jones, 11/1/2010] The donation is later shown to come from Republican financier Raymon F. Thompson, a former CEO who has provided Meckler and Martin with a luxurious private jet which they are using to fly around the country (see October 28, 2010).

Entity Tags: George Soros, Everett Wilkinson, Dee Park, Chico Tea Party, Stephanie Mencimer, Stan Meckler, Tea Party Patriots, Ernest Istook, Mark Meckler, Marina Peterson, Jenny Beth Martin, South Florida Tea Party, Raymon F. Thompson, Nevada County, California Tea Party Patriots

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the hours after a horrific shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, that took the lives of 12 people, Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX) blames the shooting on what he calls the “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs,” and asks why no one in the theater was armed and able to shoot the gunman. The alleged gunman, college student James Eagan Holmes, was taken into custody at the scene, a midnight showing of the just-released movie The Dark Knight Rises. He was wearing a bulletproof vest, ballistic helmet, a gas mask, and what the press calls “military/SWAT-style clothing.” He carried an assault rifle, two handguns, a knife, and a gas canister. Before he began shooting, he released a gas or smoke canister into the theater. Gohmert speaks out on the Heritage Foundation’s Istook Live! show, hosted by former Congressman Ernest Istook. Istook asks Gohmert why he believes such senseless violence happens, and Gohmert responds by citing what he calls weakening Christian values in Americans. “You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place,” he says. “Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important. Whether it’s John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people… Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters. We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country.” Istook notes that no one has determined the motivation of the shooter just yet. Gohmert says that may be true, but then calls the shootings “a terrorist act” that could have been avoided if the country placed a higher value on God. “People say… where was God in all of this?” Gohmert says. “We’ve threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God’s name, they’re going to be jailed… I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.” Gohmert adds that the shooter could have been stopped had someone else been in the theater with a gun and shot back at him. The theater was crowded with people, including many teenagers and children; the youngest victim identified by the media was a three-month-old child. “It does make me wonder, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?” Gohmert asks. Istook notes that Colorado has concealed-carry laws in place that allow moviegoers to bring their guns into the theater, though apparently the theater itself does not allow weapons inside the premises. [Huffington Post, 7/20/2012; CBS News, 7/20/2012; KCNC-TV, 7/20/2012; Louis Gohmert, 7/20/2012] Jeff Fecke of Care2 writes: “[T]hese remarks will likely be ill-received; in the wake of a tragedy, few people want to see finger-pointing. Especially by someone claiming that God would allow 12 people to die out of pique.” [Care2, 7/20/2012]

Entity Tags: Louis Gohmert, Ernest Istook, James Eagan Holmes, Jeff Fecke

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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