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Arizona Tea Partyers Worry License Plates Send Wrong Message

The creation of a “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate in Arizona to raise money for the tea party movement has some state activists worrying it could compromise the movement’s independence.

Some activists disagree with the movement’s Arizona leaders, who sought the state government’s approval for the specialty plate. Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the GOP-controlled Legislature recently signed off on the plate, one of 46 in Arizona that promote a cause or group, as a way for tea party activists to flaunt their affiliation and raise funds. For each plate sold, the state will share $15 with tea party groups, and critics fear the arrangement could be perceived as government funding.

“Why is the state doing it? Is it because they’re looking for the tea party to support the Republican Party?” asked Ann Stevens, who heads the Southeast Valley Tea Party Patriots in Arizona. It would be “disappointing” if tea party groups took money from the state, she said.

Many states offer specialty plates that promote a group, and the government shares the proceeds with the organization. Tea party plates already exist in Texas and are expected soon in Virginia, which has more than 200 special interest plates for organizations as diverse as the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Mark Meckler, who helps coordinate the national umbrella group Tea Party Patriots and conducts weekly conference calls with state and local activists, said the majority of the Arizona members he has spoken to oppose the plan.

He questioned how the money will be distributed, because the movement has no central organization. Republican leaders in Arizona have proposed creating a panel of activists that would divide the funds, but it was unclear how the panel would satisfy all of the state’s tea party groups.

“You have the GOP involved in how the money will be given to tea parties, which doesn’t sound very tea party-ish,” Meckler said.

The conflict could be resolved if the state just keeps the money, he added.

“I don’t have any problems with a tea party license plate, but money should just go to the state,” Meckler said. “People can donate to the cause on their own.”

Others welcome the plates as an opportunity for cash-strapped local groups to raise money.

“The government is only going to be funneling the money. The tea parties would decide who it is going to,” said Debbie Hayes of the Green Valley-Sahuarita Tea Party in Arizona.

She added that the promotional benefits outweigh the money.

“I think it’s just good exposure for the tea parties,” she said.

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