The Tea Party Convention is over. But the war it started is apparently just getting under way. Yesterday, Bill Hemrick, a conservative fund-raiser and the founder of the Upper Deck baseball trading-card company, sued the for-profit convention’s organizer, Judson Phillips, in Williamson County Circuit Court in Tennessee, in a dispute over Sarah Palin’s speaking fee. When Palin agreed to deliver the keynote address at the convention, it put the event in the news. And it was Hemrick, all agree, who provided the $50,000 down payment for Palin’s $100,000 speaking fee. In the suit, Hemrick claims that Phillips had agreed that, in return for helping to close the deal with Palin, Phillips would assist Hemrick with his National Fiscal Conservative Political Action Committee. But after taking the money, Phillips didn’t live up to his part of the deal, and even barred Hemrick from attending the event at all. Hemrick is seeking a minimum of $500,000 in damages and asserts that Phillips defamed him by badmouthing him after their falling-out over Palin.
In the run-up to the convention, as its for-profit status and Palin’s fee (she’s since said she’s donating it to charity) attracted unwelcome attention, Phillips claimed that Hemrick was the mercenary; he said he barred Hemrick from the convention because Hemrick had planned to pitch Palin on a business opportunity he needed help with. But others tell a different story. According to Anthony Shreeve, a tea-party activist who had been involved in the early planning of the Nashville convention, and who also fell out with Phillips, Hemrick was instrumental in getting Palin to agree to be the keynote speaker. Phillips and his wife, who conceived of the convention, didn’t have the funds to cover Palin’s speaking agreement, so they turned to Hemrick, who donates frequently to Republican causes.
Hemrick interceded with the Speakers Bureau, which represents Palin in her speaking engagements. “The Speaker’s Bureau said, ‘We don’t know who Judson Phillips is,’” recalled Shreeve. “So Bill sent in his résumé.” Palin’s contract, according to Shreeve, who had a look at it, called for her to be paid $100,000 for the event. It also included $18,000 for private jet travel for her and her entourage. Shreeve told me Palin’s contract standard among political stars who make the speaking-circuit rounds specified what type of private jet she requested for the trip to Nashville. “It was like, she had to have this or that size plane,” Shreeve recalls. “It was like when a rock star comes to town, the contract was that detailed.”
When reached for comment, Hemrick declined to speak about the lawsuit over Palin’s appearance in Nashville. Phillips was traveling and couldn’t be reached for comment. Shreeve, who also fell out with Phillips, told me he was angered that the event turned into a business. “That was never the deal,” Shreeve says. “The tea-party movement are middle-class people. Most of them are. You may have a few upper-class people, but this event didn’t reflect what the true meaning of the tea-party movement is.”