NEW YORK — A planned convention of Tea Party activists lost two prominent speakers Thursday, the latest sign of disagreement over how best to showcase the movement's growing political force.
Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee canceled their appearances after being billed as speakers at the gathering next week in Nashville, Tenn. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin remains a headline speaker at the event.
Both Bachmann and Blackburn have been strong supporters of the Tea Party movement, a loose confederation of conservative activists who opposed the federal bailouts of the financial system and auto giants GM and Chrysler, as well as President Barack Obama's proposed health care overhaul and the $787 billion stimulus plan he championed. Tea partiers also helped Republican Scott Brown win a Massachusetts Senate seat long held by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy.
The convention had attracted several sponsorships from Tea Party affiliate groups.
But other tea partiers have openly balked at the $550 ticket price and $100,000 fee being paid to Palin for the keynote address, saying the high prices are contrary to the movement's grass-roots image and preclude many activists from attending.
Palin told FOX News Thursday that she still intends on appearing and that speaker's fee she receives will "go right back into the cause" through future donations to candidates and events.
"You betcha I'm going to be there," Palin said.
In separate statements released by their congressional offices, Bachmann and Blackburn said appearing at the convention might conflict with House ethics rules. But they also said they had concerns about how money raised from the event would be spent.
Blackburn said she had spoken to Judson Phillips, a Nashville lawyer who organized the convention, and told him that the gathering's "for-profit status has put many of his speakers in an awkward position."
Bachmann said critics should not view her withdrawal as a "repudiation" of the Tea Party movement. "That couldn't be further from the truth," she said.
The congresswomen's decisions to drop out followed those of several other groups, including the American Liberty Alliance and the National Precinct Alliance, whose involvement had been prominently displayed on the convention's Web site. The Tea Party Express, another group that had been billed as attending, said Thursday it, too, would bow out.
"There's just a tremendous amount of anger about the ticket price," National Precinct Alliance head Philip Glass said in an interview.
Phillips did not return calls for comment. On his Facebook page, he denied that the convention was running into problems and noted that former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, a prominent opponent of illegal immigration, would attend.
"The hard left is really worried the convention will be a success," Phillips said.
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