A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million — 74 percent of which came from small donors. The PACs spent only $3 million on ads and contributions to boost the long-shot candidates often touted in the appeals, compared to $39.5 million on operating expenses, including $6 million to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs. POLITICO’s list is not all-inclusive, and some conservatives fret that it’s almost impossible to identify all the groups that are out there, let alone to rein them in.
“These groups have the pulse of the crowd, and they recognize that they can make a profit off the angst of the conservative base voters who are looking for outsiders,” said the influential conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who has taken it upon himself to call out PAC operators and fundraisers he sees as scams. They are “completely a drain,” said Erickson, whose assessments of candidates and groups carry particular weight among tea party activists and the Republicans who court them. “The conservative activists feel like they’ve contributed to a cause greater than themselves, but the money goes to the consultants, and eventually the activists get burned out and stop giving money, including to the legitimate causes.”