It is a practice that has accelerated with the explosion of social media. The latest example came on Wednesday with a new attack on Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, just a day after he said he was willing to serve as House speaker.
Even some members of Congress who might benefit from the petitions are highly critical of the approach. “A lot of people are wearing their hearts on their sleeves trying to help, and only later may find out that this money is not going where they thought it was,” said Representative David Schweikert, Republican of Arizona and a member of the Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative lawmakers who helped force out Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio as speaker.
“That is an absolute self-serving lie fostered by people who are usually on the receiving end of political attacks of these organizations,” said Dan Backer, whose Virginia-based consulting firm, DB Capitol Strategies, is treasurer and legal adviser to several of the groups, including the Tea Party Leadership Fund, the Constitutional Rights PAC and the Conservative Action Fund.
Almost all of the rest of the money it has raised since 2013 has been spent on consulting firms involved in helping collect the donations.
One of them, Strategic Fundraising of St. Paul, has been paid $2.3 million by the Tea Party Leadership Fund since 2013 to follow up the appeals with phone calls soliciting contributions. (After being fined late last year by South Carolina’s secretary of state, who accused it of deceptive fund-raising tactics, Strategic Fundraising went out of business this year.)
Mr. Backer and his various business enterprises run out of his office in Alexandria, Va., are another major beneficiary. His law firm provides legal and campaign advice to the Tea Party Leadership Fund. He also has an ownership stake in a campaign fund-raising company called SCM Enterprises that the Tea Party Leadership Fund relies on. And he helped create a conservative website, American Action News, where the Tea Party Leadership Fund routinely places advertisements. Collectively, the corporate entities Mr. Backer owns or has financial ties to have been paid at least $1.1 million in fees since 2013 by the Tea Party Leadership Fund and other PACs he helps run, federal records show.
While some of Mr. Backer’s activities were reported in Politico this year, the intensity of the effort by his groups has surged with the turmoil in the House and Mr. Boehner’s surprising decision to resign as speaker.