Tea Party Express Spent Almost $600,000 To Support Miller In Alaska Primary

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When Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced on Friday that she was running as a write in candidate against Tea Party backed GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller, she noted the role that outside groups played in her narrow defeat.

“Alaska is not fair game for outside extremists,” Murkowski said, taking a shot at the Tea Party Express and its efforts on behalf of her opponent.

A review of the Tea Party Express’ expenditures by Talking Points Memo shows just how influential a role the group played. The Tea Party Express (TPE) — or as it is known, the Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB) PAC — spent $592,174.97 to support Miller as of Sept. 17The group brought ads in cities from Kenai to Juneau to Anchorage. In addition to their media buys, OCDB paid for their staffer s to take a $1,499 per person cruise up the Alaska coast to campaign for Miller, as reported by Justin Elliott last week.

Meanwhile the TPE’s payments to Sal Russo, the head of the Tea Party Express, were outlined in the New York Times over the weekend. As TPM reported in December, a majority of the money the group brings in goes to Russo’s Republican consulting company or his affiliates.

The Times story brought to light other potentially troublesome expenditures revealed in FEC records, including “payments totaling more than $10,000 for stays at casino hotels, as well as bills for meals at expensive restaurants near Mr. Russo’s offices, including nearly $5,000 at Chops Steak House, which former staff members said the Tea Party Express frequented after work.”

The Times also reported that Russo and his wife’s company received nearly $700,000 in the last 20 months, or about 13 percent of the $5.2 million the committee has spent. Russo’s company Russo Marsh + Associates received the most TPE money since 2009, according to Open Secrets, followed by the Fox Business Network, where the Tea Party Express spent $234,151 to run ads throughout 2009 and early 2010. Other big recipients of Tea Party Express money include Newsmax Media, a credit card processing fee company and Premiere Transportation (which ran the buses for the Tea Party Express).

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