The greatest dangers the Tea Party movement has always had to face is co-optation, whether by the GOP establishment or by Conservative INC. This article posted on Politico showed how a GOP political consulting firm out of California, under the head renowned operative Sal Russo, created the Tea Party Express as a way to “give a boost to our PAC and position us as a growing force/leading force as the 2010 elections come into focus.” Indeed. They’ve used the Tea Party moniker and their bus tour to collect over $2.7 million in donations.

Needless to say other Tea Party group aren’t too happy when they’re struggling to raise funds while GOP hucksters suck up the cash by slapping a Tea Party label on a bus and having Sarah Palin speak at rallies, like the one in Boston today.

We’ve worked hard to distance ourselves from the Tea Party Express because of their close affiliation with the Republican Party, the Republican establishment and their PAC,” said Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella group of local activists. The Patriots have supported a strict nonpartisan posture but also have struggled to raise money, and Dooley contends that’s partly because of Tea Party Express.

“When people donate to Tea Party Express, they think that they are donating to a tea party, because they don’t read the fine print at the bottom of their e-mails that says it is a PAC,” she said. “And that hurts the local grass-roots tea party organizers, since a lot of that is actually taking some money away from them.”

Adds Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a nonprofit group that trains local tea party organizers: “I’m concerned that they’re using (Tea Party Express) as a marketing gimmick to line the pockets of consultants instead of actually helping the tea party movement. People are already pretty fired up, so enough protesting and rallying — they need to be empowered to go back and organize their communities.”

So on top of having Sen. Scott Brown disown them and vote for spending bills that I’m sure they weren’t anticipating while they were campaigning out in the dead of winter for him, those Tea Partiers heading to the Boston Common will also have the joy of being fleeced by the GOP establishment and seeing their money go to political consultants as they contribute to what they think is their movement.

It’s not surprising that the Powers that Be would prey upon the Tea Partiers. For one thing, the establishment party found itself without much of an activist base after eight years of Bush II. What is referred to as the “religious right” is a spent force, other groups are more into their own single issues and still others are made up more of email lists and fundraisers rather than flesh and blood door-to-door persons.  The Tea Parties were Godsend to them, not  because of bodies in the street but names and credit cards numbers they could exploit.  Indeed, there was a reason why so many rightists were looking forward to the Obama Presidency, they were back in business again.  As they will tell you (and as the netroots are currently finding out) it’s a lot harder to fire people up when your gang runs the show.

The problem the Tea Partiers have is trying to figure out who is on their side and who isn’t, because its easy for consultants to create and  hide behind front groups. They do it all the time. Who wouldn’t think a bus tour with stop at rallies all across the country or having a national convention of the likeminded were neat ideas to gain national attention and build up momentum? But they have to start asking questions, such as “Who gets to ride on the bus?”