THE GOP DRIVE TO USE THE GREEN PARTY…. Four years ago, during the Casey-Santorum Senate race in Pennsylvania, Republicans were pretty aggressive in trying to help Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli. At one point, literally every penny in Romanelli’s campaign coffers — except for the $30 he donated to himself — had come from conservatives supporting Santorum.

That was pretty blatant. Reader V.S. flags this item out of Texas that’s arguably even more obvious.

The liberal Green Party’s uphill battle to get on the Texas ballot this fall has been fueled by a surprising benefactor: an out-of-state Republican consultant with a history of helping conservative causes and GOP candidates.

If the state validates the petitions the consultant arranged for the party — for free — a Green Party slate could drain support from Democrat Bill White in his bid to oust Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

It’s quite a scheme. The Green Party of Texas hasn’t been able to field a slate of candidates for statewide offices since 2002, but miraculously, conservatives gathered 92,000 signatures for the Green Party, and dropped them off as a “gift.”

The goal isn’t exactly a mystery. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is seeking another term, and Houston Mayor Bill White (D) is a credible challenger. For the right, there’s an incentive — get Greens on the ballot, and split the progressive vote. Even if it’s just a percentage point or two, in a close race, this could make the difference between victory and defeat.

Who’s funding all of this? It’s a good question, and we may never know for sure. The effort was organized through Arizona Republican operative Tim Mooney, who set up the petition drive, and is perhaps best known for launching an effort to help get Ralph Nader on the ballot in several states in 2004. Mooney relied on a group called Take Initiative America to finance the collection of the signatures, which may have cost as much as $350,000.

And who’s funding Take Initiative America? Mooney won’t say.

We’ve seen schemes like this before. In 2004, a Green Party candidate for the state Senate in California dropped out of the race when he learned the Republican Party had paid his campaign filing fees. He didn’t want to be used.

This year, the Green Party of Texas has no such qualms. A state coordinator for the party said it “doesn’t bother” her where the money comes from, and whether the Green Party is being used by out-of-state Republicans to help GOP candidates doesn’t matter.

Mooney, I’m sure, is delighted by the response.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.