By MANU RAJU, Politico
Tea party activists are stepping up their involvement in an internal Senate GOP battle over whether to ban earmarks – and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe is pushing back aggressively.
Inhofe has engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort aimed at convincing tea party groups of the value of earmarks, including by circulating a 20-page document that makes the case that itâ€™s Congressâ€™ job to appropriate money and that a number of projects are rooted in the national and local interest.
The 75-year-old, four-term senator, who boasts of being the most conservative senator, has been relentless, according to several accounts.
Moments after the Tea Party Patriots issued a missive to 200,000 members backing the earmark ban, Inhofe tried to reach one of the groupâ€™s leaders on her cell phone. When he couldnâ€™t connect, he tried again. When that was unsuccessful, his staff sent text messages urging her to call him back.
Finally, one of the groupâ€™s co-founders, Mark Meckler, returned Inhofeâ€™s phone call Wednesday. It was a brief conversation, where Inhofe said he wanted to provide Mecklerâ€™s group with an essay entitled â€œthe secret about earmarksâ€ that said eliminating them â€œwonâ€™t save taxpayers a single dime.â€ And he urged Meckler to give the essay to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who is the chairman of the tea party-aligned Freedom Works.
Meckler said in an interview that the phone call was â€œbizarre,â€ adding that â€œwe normally donâ€™t have a lot of direct contact with senators.â€
Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for Inhofe, said that the senator has been making calls to several different leaders of tea party groups in advance of next weekâ€™s vote.
â€œThese are friends,â€ Dempsey said. â€œAnd heâ€™s not shy about making his case.â€
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