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Reps. pull out of Tea Party convention

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Conservative congressswomen Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have reversed course and are both pulling out of the controversial Tea Party Nation Convention that Sarah Palin is speaking at next week.

As we wrote Jan. 15, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this convention. First, the cost of the convention -- $549 a person - is more than double the cost of similar national conventions, like CPAC and the liberal Netroots Nation. Second, the organizer of the convention designated Tea Party Nation "for profit," which threw up red flags for some activists and prompted some sponsors to back out. And third, the organizer's personal financial past raised questions about how he has handled money in the past. As NBC News first reported, he filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and has had several federal tax liens against him.

The convention begins Thursday; Palin speaks Saturday, Feb. 6.

Politico got a statement from Blackburn's office and it cited consultation with the House Committee on Standards: "After consulting with the Committee on Standards, Congressman Blackburn has decided not to participate in the Tea Party Nation Convention next week." Standards advised Congressman Blackburn not to participate in the event due to uncertainty about how any proceeds from the event may be used. Convention organizers have not been clear about how those funds will be put to use. We have every indication that any profit could be put to work to advance grass roots causes and some of those uses could make the Congressman's participation improper after the fact."

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Bachmann: "Bachmann's office cited the same concerns that other Tea Party activists have voiced about the first-of-its-kind national gathering: namely, the for-profit model of organizer Judson Phillips, a self-described 'small town lawyer' with a history of financial problems."

*** UPDATE *** Here are the full statements from Bachmann and Blackburn's offices provided to First Read on why they decided to pull out of next week's Tea Party Nation Convention in Nashville.

Bachmann:

"Due to conflicting advice on whether Representative Bachmann's participation in the upcoming Tea Party Nation Convention would be in line with the Committee on Standards, Congresswoman Bachmann has decided not to participate in the event," spokeswoman Debbee Keller wrote. "There is uncertainty about how any proceeds from the event may be used, and we must err on the side of caution. Some will want to portray her withdrawal as a repudiation of the Tea Party Movement, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Congresswoman Bachmann remains encouraged by all Americans, regardless of political party, who are concerned about this nation's future and dwindling prosperity, and continues to be inspired their passion."

Blackburn, who is from Tennessee:

"After consulting with the Committee on Standards, Congressman Blackburn has decided not to participate in the Tea Party Nation Convention next week," Blackburn spokesman Claude Chafin wrote. "Standards advised Congressman Blackburn not to participate in the event due to uncertainty about how any proceeds from the event may be used. Convention organizers have not been clear about how those funds will be put to use. We have every indication that any profit could be put to work to advance grass roots causes and some of those uses could make the Congressman's participation improper after the fact."

Here's a statement from Rep. Blackburn herself:

"I spoke to Judson Phillips this morning and let him know that I could not participate in the convention. I told him frankly that Tea Party Nation's for-profit status has put many of his speakers in an awkward position. I remain encouraged by the outpouring of energy from constitutionally minded grassroots organizations in Tennessee and around America. These groups are not made up of Republicans or Democrats but everyday Americans who are concerned about their freedom. They know that out-of-control spending and the expansion of government ultimately limits that freedom. I share their concerns and look forward to working with them in the future."