Pope-backed group hosting Florida tour featuring discredited Tea Party leader

KingStreetPatriots.jpgAmericans for Prosperity, led and largely funded by the Koch brothers and Art Pope, is launching a tour in battleground Florida this week featuring a discredited Texas Tea Party leader notorious for exaggerated claims about voter fraud. What's their real agenda?

The "Grassroots Education Tour" hosted by Americans for Prosperity Florida -- the Sunshine State's chapter of the conservative advocacy group funded largely by the Kochs and Pope -- is aimed at "providing essential education tools" to voters in the battleground state. 

Although Florida has already enacted some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, the tour features a controversial Tea Party leader from Texas that has whipped up hysteria about alleged "voter fraud" in African-American communities.

Catherine Engelbrecht is a founder of King Street Patriots, an active Tea Party group based in Houston, Texas. In 2010, the Patriots also founded True the Vote, a group which launched with an incendiary call-to-arms video (since removed) that began with this ominous statement:

"The voting system is under attack now. The movements that are focused on voter fraud and the integrity of elections are crucial at this point. This really, this is a war."

The video gives no evidence of fraud, but True the Vote was off to the races, promising to mobilize "millions" of conservative poll-watchers in Texas to prevent alleged fraud.

Engelbrecht and the group soon became embroiled in controversy. In October 2010, Engelbrecht told a shocked gathering of King Street Patriots that the controversial New Black Panther Party had set up an office in Houston.

It turns out Engelbrecht was wrong: The actual group she was referring to was Houston Votes, a nonprofit that registers voters in African-American and Latino communities.

More recently, King Street Patriots organized an event featuring Matthew Vadum -- a right-wing pundit who earlier this year questioned whether the poor should vote, claiming it's "like handing out burglary tools to criminals."

According to the invite, the King Street Patriots event is aimed at stoking up fears of the old conservative bogeyman: now-defunct ACORN:

For $100, guests of the King Street Patriots can dine at Maggiano’s for a four-course meal and a signed copy of Vadum’s Subversion Inc.: How Obama’s ACORN Red Shirts are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers. They’ll learn all about how a group with “such an innocent sounding name and endearing logo” is really “a criminal organization with the goal of the destruction of America and the installation of a totalitarian government.”

Like Americans for Prosperity, King Street Patriots has long asserted its work is non-partisan. King Street Patriots originally claimed it was applying for 501c3 nonprofit status, which prohibits partisan activity. This past March, Engelbrecht herself told a True the Vote gathering that "this is not a partisan thing."

King Street Patriots, however, has openly endorsed Republican lawmakers in its Twitter feed. And the group's 2010 rallying video featured an unidentified man who declared:

We have nine state senate districts touching the Houston area. In the legislature of Texas, there is a seven-vote majority conservative. What that means is, in the big picture, is if we lose Houston, we lose Texas ... And guess what: If we lose Texas, we lose the country.

Who, exactly, is the "we" that Engelbrecht and King Street Patriots -- and apparently, Americans for Prosperity -- are defending?

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