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April 6, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: Hey, who’s that guy with the CEO of the new tea party organization?

TERRE HAUTE — Peruse the Web site of Liberty Central Inc. and you learn that Brian Faughnan, the managing editor of the nonprofit lobbying group, likes to make mint chocolate chip treats, that national coordinator Sue Hamblen lives in Virginia with her husband and two “very large” Labradors, that Amy Feather, the director of development and marketing, lives with her two teenage boys, and that general counsel Sue Field enjoys marathon training and sailing with her husband.

But what of Liberty Central Inc.’s founder, president and CEO, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas? The site’s personal info tells us she’s a fan of Rush Limbaugh, author Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, is “intrigued by” and is “listening carefully to” Glenn Beck, and she likes “motorhoming” and watching the TV series “24.”

With whom? Might it be her husband of more than two decades, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas?

While the formation of yet another tea party organization is about as big a news story as the opening of another McDonald’s or Taco Bell, a tea party group headed by the spouse of a Supreme Court justice does make Liberty Central Inc. stand out from the crowd.

Not that anyone involved in the organization seems remotely inclined to acknowledge the implications of such heavyweight access by its founder to the highest level of the nation’s judicial branch of government.

As Virginia Thomas insisted during a panel presentation in February at the national Conservative Political Action Conference, “I’m just an ordinary citizen from Omaha, Nebraska, who just may have the chance to preserve liberty along with you and other people like you.”

Throughout Liberty Central’s Web site, Thomas is described in terms that complement the ordinary Nebraskan image and distance her from her rarefied role as the law-degree-holding life partner of one of the country’s top nine jurists. She is “a new social entrepreneur,” an “urgent and high-minded soul” who “loves her country and wishes it good,” and “a rising star among conservatives … a rare leader – highly principled, remarkably smart, and pleasantly persistent.”

That last set of kudos is from Morton C. Blackwell, president of the Leadership Institute – and a lifelong GOP activist and current member of the Republican National Committee’s rules committee. Other endorsements come from George W. Bush’s former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, from Virginia Thomas’ former boss, Edwin J. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, and from a fabulously successful veteran Washington lobbyist, Rick Berman, who called the Democratic Party “basically Leninists” for appealing the 2000 presidential election results in Florida.

But like Virginia Thomas and her ordinary citizen stance, Liberty Central Inc. declares it is a nonpartisan organization.

National coordinator Hamblen (the one with the big Labradors) told the Washington Post last month, “We are very seriously not Republican or Democrat; we are conservative. Our intent is to remain nonpolitical except in terms of furthering the core principles of the founding fathers.”

In the furtherance of those principles, the new nonprofit will provide grade cards for political candidates that judge how well they do or don’t serve Liberty Central’s ideas of conservatism. As a tax-exempt 501(c)(4), the Thomas group is not required to publicly reveal its donors’ names unless it violates a couple of minor television advertising no-nos regarding candidates or if it manages to spend more than 50 percent of its funding to try to elect or defeat specific candidates.

Even better, thanks to a razor-thin Supreme Court ruling in January, Liberty Central Inc. is now free to accept as much corporate funding for its political activism as it can generate. Virginia Thomas’ motorhoming partner was among the five justices who voted for that precident-reversing decision.

In addition to rating candidates for their conservative bona fides, Liberty Central’s leaders say their mission is “activating informed American patriots who are seeking knowledge of the core founding principles and passionate about preserving freedom and liberty.”

To help these patriots “make a difference in the fight for liberty and against the liberal Washington agenda,” the group’s Web site “will serve the big tent of the conservative movement,” providing education and information and “encouraging civil discourse.”

Among the edifying fare, Web site visitors “will be offered self-assesment tools directing them to profile-specific threats, opportunities, local activities, and groups they may wish to join.”

Along with Lady Liberty, the Capitol and the Constitution, Liberty Central’s site features photos of a smiling black family, a smiling Asian family and a smiling white couple of Medicare age. All but one of the group’s endorsements, however, are by major movers and shakers on the political right, such as Rumsfeld and Blackwell.

The exception (sort of) is from Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, co-founders and national coordinators of the Tea Party Patriots. As they see it, “Liberty Central, with its focus specifically on training grassroots activists interested in returning the country to its founding principles, is a necessary component of a successful, long-term conservative revolution … an organization worthy of every conservative’s support.”

And if there is ever any talk of that long-term conservative revolution between Liberty Central’s ordinary-citizen CEO and her husband? No doubt, true American patriots will trust that whatever happens in the motorhome stays in the motorhome.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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