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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Tea Party faithful in Arizona now can drive around with a new state license plate that they can call their own.
Vehicle plates bearing the Gadsden Flag, coiled rattlesnake logo and "Don't Tread On Me" slogan that has become the clarion call for the grass-roots conservative group, was signed into law late on Thursday by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
A Brewer spokesman said on Friday that the idea is "nothing new," citing the dozens of specialty plates created to support other groups and causes in the state, including wildlife conservation and organ donor programs.
"In this instance, a portion of plate sales will be devoted to supporting the message of limited government and the Constitution," Matthew Benson told Reuters.
"Tea Party members or not, the Governor believes this is something most Arizonans can support," he added.
Benson added that no taxpayer funds would be used to pay for the special plate, which was one of 10 included in the bill approved by the governor.
Under the newly minted law, $17 of the $25 charged for the plate would go to a 13-member committee to use to foster Tea Party "governing principles," while the remaining $8 would go to the state to cover costs.
The group also would need to raise an estimated $32,000 in start-up costs.
The various groups making up the Tea Party do not officially endorse a political party, although they have supported many conservative Republicans in congressional, state and local elections.
Opponents criticized the measure for giving state backing to the conservative activist group's fund-raising activities.
"It's just wrong to utilize state resources to fund a political entity," said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an outspoken Democratic state legislator. "I wouldn't even want a Democratic license plate. That would also be wrong," she added.
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat, also is planning introduce a bill in Congress that would take away federal funds from state's passing such laws.
The "License Plate Political Slush Fund Prevention Act of 2011" would withhold 15 percent of a state's highway dollars for giving license plate money to groups seeking to elect or defeat a candidate running for political office.
Ackerman plans to introduce the bill when Congress reconvenes next week, spokesman Jordan Goldes, told Reuters on Friday.
Arizona joins Texas and Virginia as the only states to have Tea Party license plates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Similar legislation also was introduced this year in Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Nevada.
Editing by Tim Gaynor and Greg McCune