Tea partiers shell out big bucks for Sarah Palin

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 - 5:05pm

Sarah Palin’s appearance early next month at the first tea party movement’s convention in Nashville, Tenn., has stirred controversy in conservative circles over her reported decision to charge a substantial fee.

Palin’s aides and conference organizers won’t comment on financial arrangements, but documents obtained by POLITICO reveal the going rate for the former Alaska governor: $100,000 a speech, with a discount to $75,000 for West Coast appearances. Palin has reportedly waived the fee for some charitable events, but what’s billed as a meeting of the grass-roots conservative movement is not among those.

Tickets for the Nashville event run $549, plus a $9.95 fee, while separate tickets to see only Palin cost $349. Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee are also scheduled to speak at the three-day conference at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.

Palin’s speech will be closed to the press. Conference organizer Sherry Phillips confirmed to POLITICO that, unlike some of the events with other speakers, reporters will not be permitted to be in the room.

Retired politicians often make a living off public speaking. Former President Bill Clinton reported making more than $10 million at it in 2007 alone, charging $150,000 that year for a basic domestic speech. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was charging $25,000 a speech last year, according to a person familiar with his arrangements.

But charging money to speak means that political celebrities aren’t raking in another valuable commodity: goodwill. Even those who charge for speeches typically appear for free before political audiences, in order to fill the favor bank. And those who can afford it, like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, always speak free.

“I'm hearing through sources Sarah Palin is getting $75k to speak at this Tea Party convention,” blogger Dan Riehl, an admirer of Palin and of the tea partyers, wrote recently after learning that she was charging a substantial fee. That's a lot of damned tea.”

Palin’s spokeswoman didn’t respond to an inquiry about the fees, and conference organizer Judson Phillips declined to discuss the fees.

“I know who your sources are. They are not reliable,” he said in response to an inquiry from POLITICO.

Phillips was apparently referring to internal critics, who have complained that the convention’s price tag of $560 is too high for a grass-roots event.

In a recent interview with POLITICO, one of those critics warned Palin off the event.

“She thinks she’s coming to endorse the tea party movement, but most tea party people won’t be there because they can’t afford it,” said Anthony Shreeve, an East Tennessee tea party organizer who quit the convention’s steering committee. “The tea party movement is a grass-roots movement; it’s not a business, he said.

But Greg Mueller, a veteran conservative political consultant, was more sympathetic. "She's in demand as a best-selling author, a former governor and a former GOP VP candidate and is capitalizing on that demand while she decides what's next for her,” said Mueller. “She is doing nothing different than former Vice President [Al] Gore, former President Clinton, and former Joint Chiefs [of Staff] Chairman Colin Powell, who are just a few that come to mind who have taken similar paths."