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Tea Party Senate Candidate Mike Lee Tried to Dump 1,600 Tons of European Nuclear Waste on Utah

With an assist from FreedomWorks, Mike Lee grabbed Utah's Senate nomination from incumbent Bob Bennett. Now he shows he's not a states' rights kind of guy.

Dick Armey and his political organizing group, FreedomWorks, have been working overtime to convince Tea Party supporters they're invested in the movement's "common sense" approaches on states' rights, strict constitutionalism and protecting Main Street from Wall Street. FreedomWorks' ties to Big Energy run deep, however, and by throwing their weight behind the group's endorsed Utah Senate candidate, Mike Lee, Tea Party adherents are inadvertently backing a candidate who tried to bury 1,600 tons of European nuclear waste in what some call their sovereign state. FreedomWorks and Lee, put simply, are capitalizing on Tea Party anger for their own interests.

FreedomWorks' PAC, dormant since 2000, was reborn for this year's midterm elections, funneling about $24,000 to Tea Party candidates, including little-known Senatorial hopeful Lee, who has received a total of $13,610 in contributions and independent expenditures, far more than boldfaced rabble-rousers like Sharron Angle and Pat Toomey. But direct campaign contributions are only a part of the many rewards Senate candidates could reap from a FreedomWorks endorsement; the organization expects to spend $5 million in the midterm elections for get-out-the-vote and voter-education campaigns, according to a strategy memo obtained by the Huffington Post's Sam Stein.

It was FreedomWorks that advanced Lee's successful charge to unseat incumbent Bob Bennett, a three-term Republican senator -- by helping to pack the Utah state GOP convention with Tea Party activists. (In Utah, convention delegates get first shot at determining the Republican candidate; the primary race is run between candidates getting less than 60 percent of the convention vote.)

"There was a misperception that Bennett was a conservative," FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon told me of his group's Lee endorsement. "But he was part of the machine, not a true-blue conservative. You're not going to beat the establishment unless everyone's pulling the same way, and we decided to take a chance." But, like Bennett's, Lee's career also unfolded within the proverbial machine.

Oil in Their Veins

Energy and oil flow through FreedomWorks' veins. The political organizing group was born from a schism within the group Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded with funding from conservative oil man David Koch (a principal in Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the U.S., and who is now the big wallet behind another Tea Party-aligned astroturf group, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation). What's more, FreedomWorks' chairman and spiritual leader, former House Speaker Armey spent three years of his post-Congress career lobbying for Irving Oil, owner of Canada's largest oil refinery.

Armey sees no moral hazard in his work on behalf of Big Energy: he once told Congress that human beings, quite simply, lack the power to destroy the planet. "I take it as an article of faith," Armey asserted, "if the lord God almighty made the heavens and the Earth, and he made them to his satisfaction and it is quite pretentious of we little weaklings here on earth to think that, that we are going to destroy God's creation."

FreedomWorks' connections with the energy industry don't end with Armey, of course: board chair C. Boyden Gray, a card-carrying member of the Federalist Society, was the Bush administration's Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Diplomacy, and now keeps busy with his eponymous law firm, Gray & Schmitz LLP, which made $20,000 last year lobbying for Constellation Energy, a company that operates nuclear facilities here in the States. And that brings us back to Lee, whose work with nuclear waste management company EnergySolutions squares quite nicely with FreedomWorks' money-generating mission.

Lee looks like an ideal Tea Party candidate: he loathes "Obamacare," supports term limits and regularly gripes about porous borders that threaten national security. Perhaps most notably, Lee opposes funding for the Troubled Asset Recovery Program known as TARP, which incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Bennett supported, a move that garnered him plenty of right-wing vitriol which FreedomWorks' operatives happily fueled during the state's Republican convention.