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Tea Party Inc.: The Big Money and Powerful Elites Behind the Right Wing's Latest Uprising

The Tea Parties are billed as a people's movement. But they wouldn't exist without the help of deep-pocketed billionaires.

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Before the night was out, Glenn Beck himself graced the stage, asking the crowd to " expect miracles" at the next day's rally.

A few miles away, a more sedate crowd was jammed into a Marriott ballroom for a gala dinner that wrapped up yet another activist conference, the Defending the American Dream Summit, this one convened by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Striding toward the podium to the opening strains of "New York, New York" was chairman Koch. Tall and dapper in a precisely tailored dark suit, the 70-year-old stood in sharp contrast to the 2,500 middle-class women in pastel frocks and men in department-store sport coats who populated the ballroom tables.

Koch prefers to be known for the hundreds of millions he lavishes on his adopted city's cultural institutions -- the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Opera, to name a few. But the quieter largess behind events like these, dispensed by David Koch and his brother Charles, has reshaped Washington, D.C., and our national politics. Though Americans for Prosperity, which he founded, and its foundation, whose board he chairs, have been instrumental in organizing the Tea Party movement, Koch still publicly claims to have no Tea Party ties, making tonight's appearance notable.

"Six years ago, when we launched this organization," he said in his uneasy and halting style, "we envisioned a grassroots organization of Americans from all walks of life banded together to advance economic freedom and prosperity by limiting government's reach, and curbing government's growth, reining in government spending. …We envisioned an organization that would boldly and unapologetically defend the free-market economy. The Tea Party is Koch's dream come true; the Washington summit, he told attendees, was designed to train grassroots activists in the defense of the "free-market economy" and "to send a message to the political class that these activists [are] energized and watching" its members.

The Capitol Hill Franchise

The self-appointed head of Tea Party Inc.'s Capitol Hill division is the junior senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint. DeMint is the top Senate recipient of donations from the Koch Industries' PAC, reeling in $22,000 in the current election cycle for a race he stands virtually no chance of losing. The Kochs' PAC is also the number three donor to DeMint's PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, which he spends on other races.

In DeMint, the Kochs found a politician who will make no compromises on their far-right agenda, favoring tax cuts and opposing health-care reform, green energy, labor unions and regulation of any kind. Last year, DeMint received the Americans for Prosperity Foundation's George Washington Award, bestowed upon the senator by Koch himself. Speaking at the organization's summit in August, Koch said DeMint "has consistently stood for freedom against this big-government agenda." In backing DeMint's power play against leaders of the Republican establishment, particularly his challenge to the power of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kochs stand poised to push those establishment leaders into the same uncompromising positions.

Echoing DeMint's agenda are Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican who, in July, founded a Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, and Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican from Indiana, who is House GOP conference chairman and a charter member of the new caucus. Both are Tea Party favorites, and Bachmann is a regular speaker at Americans for Prosperity events. At the Americans for Prosperity Foundation's RightOnline conference, held in Las Vegas in July, Pence used a luncheon address to make the case for melding the free-market Tea Party agenda with the values of the religious right, while Bachmann entertained a banquet crowd with her plan to phase out Social Security.