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TPN Violates Labor Laws: "We don't ask anything from our members" … Except Uncompensated Labor

Posted by – 1/26/10

Tea Party Nation’s Judson Phillips took to the Fox Business Network tonight to downplay concerns over his for-profit enterprise putting on an expensive convention that many assumed was being planned by a non-profit organization. When asked about these concerns, he responded with confidence:

We don’t ask anything from any of our 12,000 members. We don’t ask people to pay dues. We don’t ask for donations. We use the capitalist system to go ahead and fund this particular organization so we can use the resources to help advance this cause. What’s wrong with that?

Contrast that with this statement released by Tea Party Nation only 12 days ago (emphasis mine):

Tea Party Nation is a C-Corp. We do not focus on donations, and provide a service and network for like-minded conservatives and TEA Party leadership. TEA Party Nation is operated entirely by volunteers.

Tea Party Nation has an Advisory Board made up of nine (9) individuals who have been with Tea Party Nation since its formation. This Advisory Board is instrumental in greeting new members, moderating the site, putting out our newsletter and making the policies and decisions for Tea Party Nation.

I wonder if Judson would you say that these Advisory Board members are routinely contributing to the benefit of Tea Party Nation Corporation? I would guess so, considering he saw fit to mention them in this press release. Certainly Tea Party Nation has had more than just board members working for the organization (event planners, security at the rallies, the sound engineers, etc…), but since he so explicitly mentioned the Advisory Board in the sentence immediately following his declaration that Tea Party Nation is operated entirely by volunteers, we’ll keep our focus here. I’ve been told by former Advisory Board members that they were never compensated for their work with an hourly wage, a salary, or company stock.

Now pay attention; this should be pretty straight-forward…

Using entirely his own words, we now know that Tea Party Nation is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by accepting volunteer labor for the benefit of a for-profit private sector enterprise. (It is important to note that according to the Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor, an employee is one who “follows the usual path of an employee.”)

So, Tea Party Nation asks nothing of its members… except free labor.

An anonymous source has told me that several of the former employees of Tea Party Nation Corporation are now filing complaints with the local Wage and Hour District Office for the Department of Labor. I suppose people don’t take too kindly to finding out that their goodwill and volunteer spirit was used by a man to fuel his start-up.

More than just uncompensated labor, though, several former employees of Tea Party Nation allege the company still owes them hundreds and thousands in reimbursement for expenses they incurred in the production of various Tea Party Nation events. Donations were routinely taken at these events, yet many times reimbursement for expenses incurred by event planners did not follow, and Advisory Board members could not be sure the donated funds were delivered to the charities for whom they’d been earmarked. The books were never available for inspection.

This convention has now lost three major sponsors– American Liberty Alliance, American Majority, and National Precinct Alliance. All three were to provide training and seminars. Even Marsha Blackburn is starting to get cold feet. She told the Tennessean that her team had this convention under review. “It’s a ‘We the people,’ event,” she said. “I think that sometimes it’s become about ‘I the organizer.’”

If speakers are pulling out and organizations set to provide training won’t be there, what on earth are convention attendees going to get for their $549 entrance fee once they arrive?

Judson can keep chirping that all the negative press is coming from a few disgruntled people, but when a person’s wake starts to fill up with more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more disgruntled former associates and sponsors… it demands a better explanation than just, “Sour grapes.”

Even if Tea Party Nation’s violation of labor laws is not nefarious in nature — and I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here — this bumbling financial negligence should give pause to anyone seriously considering working with this man and his organization. This could turn out to be quite an expensive oversight.

Tea Party Nation isn’t some small operation. Should the National Tea Party Convention implode, Tea Party Nation stands to walk away with over $300,000 from sales of its non-refundable tickets. (Though if I were a ticket holder, I’d immediately demand a refund anyway.) I would hope any organization asking the tea party movement to trust it with that kind of money would have dotted all their i’s and crossed all their t’s. Apparently this one did not.

Keep this blog bookmarked, people. More on this soon…

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