Tea Party Inc.: The Big Money and Powerful Elites Behind the Right Wing's Latest Uprising
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Koch Industries, with David as executive vice-president and his brother Charles as CEO, presides over a vast conglomerate of oil and gas interests, as well as holdings in timber and chemicals. Since the 1970s, the two men have funded and controlled a large network of right-wing institutions, launching the libertarian Cato Institute in 1977 and the Mercatus Institute in 1985, all of which advocate business deregulation under the rubric of "free markets."
Both cornerstones of Tea Party Inc. -- FreedomWorks and the two entities comprising Americans for Prosperity -- sprang from Koch's riches. FreedomWorks rose from the ashes of Citizens for a Sound Economy, an early astroturf group and think tank he founded during the Reagan years to advocate for lower taxes, less regulation, and smaller government. CSE was rebranded as FreedomWorks in 2004, after a corporate-style merger with Empower America, founded by the late Republican Congressman Jack Kemp to limit government and privatize government services.
That same year, Koch rebranded CSE's foundation as the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and founded its sibling organization, Americans for Prosperity. Koch hired the politically connected Tim Phillips to serve as president of both organizations. (Phillips is a business partner of former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed in a political consulting firm, Century Strategies, which was implicated, but never charged, in the bribery scandal that sent Jack Abramoff to prison.)
Koch and his allies built the underpinnings for a movement not quite ready to be born. The absent ingredient was rage. But by 2009, with the collapse of the economy and the election of the nation's first African-American president, the supply chain of rage was complete, and the Tea Party came roaring to life. Rupert Murdoch gave the new movement legitimacy by means of sympathetic columns in the Wall Street Journal , boosterism from Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck and a regular media platform on Fox News Channel for Tea Party personalities and candidates. As Jane Mayer remarked in her New Yorker profile of the Kochs, the Tea Party had at last turned their private agenda into a mass movement.
The role of these groups in launching the movement is indisputable. In concert with Glenn Beck's 912 Project, FreedomWorks did the logistical organizing for the first Tea Party march on Washington, in September 2009. Beck launched the 912 Project on his Fox News Channel show, promoted the march on his show and mobilized
it through a social networking Web site built by his production company.
Since then, the groups have been tearing through the Murdoch-Koch agenda. Americans for Prosperity says it convened, through an offshoot, some 300 rallies against health-care reform, and once the health-care bill was passed in March, the organization quickly moved to block cap-and-trade as a means of regulating carbon emissions. In fact, at an Americans for Prosperity Foundation conference I attended in Pittsburgh in August 2009, cap-and-trade was already being introduced as the next Tea Party battle. This is a longstanding priority for Koch Industries, a major polluter heavily invested in old energy technologies. In a March 2010 report, Greenpeace said that, over the years, the Koch brothers have "quietly funneled" nearly $50 million to "climate-denial front groups that are working to delay policies and regulations aimed at stopping global warming."
Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore -- a member of the newspaper's editorial board and a former fellow at the Koch-funded Cato Institute -- told the gathering of Tea Party activists he thought global warming was "the greatest hoax of the last 100 years." He called the climate change agenda "not just evil, but…contrary to the free-market system that made this country great."