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After the 2004 presidential election, the “astroturf” organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see Late 2004) splits due to internal dissension. Oil billionaire David Koch and Koch Industries lobbyist Richard Fink (see August 30, 2010) launch a new “astroturf” organization, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009)). They hire Tim Phillips to run the organization. Phillips (see August 6, 2009) is a veteran political operative who worked closely with Republican operative Ralph Reed; the two co-founded the political consulting firm Century Strategies. Phillips’s online biography will describe him as an expert in “grasstops” and “grassroots” political organizing. Conservative operative Grover Norquist will call Phillips “a grownup who can make things happen.” In 2009, Phillips will claim that AFP has “only” 800,000 members, but its Web site will claim “1.2 million activists.” A former employee of the Cato Institute, a Koch-founded libertarian think tank, will say that AFP is “micromanaged by the Kochs” (indicating involvement by both David and Charles Koch). (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The conservative “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004) holds a conference of conservative political operatives and pundits in a Marriott hotel outside Washington, DC. Right-wing blogger Erick Erickson of RedState.com thanks oil billionaire and AFP co-founder David Koch (see August 30, 2010) from the podium and promises to “unite and fight… the armies of the left!” The rest of the conference is spent planning how to battle the policies that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama might implement if he wins the November election. AFP will be instrumental in the Koch brothers’ battle against Obama administration policies (see August 30, 2010). (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The conservative “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, and August 6, 2009) launches a multi-pronged attack on every major policy initiative attempted by the Obama administration. Within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, AFP holds “Porkulus” rallies protesting Obama’s stimulus spending measures. The Koch-funded Mercatus Center (see August 30, 2010), working in concert with AFP, releases a report that falsely claims stimulus funds are being disproportionately directed towards Democratic districts; the author is later forced to correct the report, but not before conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, citing the report, calls the stimulus program “a slush fund,” and Fox News and other conservative outlets repeat the characterization. AFP vice president Phil Kerpen is a Fox News contributor; AFP officer Walter Williams is a frequent guest host for Limbaugh. AFP soon creates an offshoot organization, Patients United Now (PUN—see May 29, 2009), designed to oppose the Obama administration’s health care reform initiatives; PUN holds some 300 rallies against reform efforts (see August 5, 2009), some of which depict Democratic lawmakers hung in effigy (see July 27, 2009) and others depict corpses from Nazi concentration camps. AFP also holds over 80 rallies opposing cap-and-trade legislation, which would force industries to pay for creating air pollution. AFP also targets individual Obama administration members, such as “green jobs” czar Van Jones, and opposes the administration’s attempt to hold international climate talks. AFP leader Tim Phillips (see August 6, 2009) tells one anti-environmental rally: “We’re a grassroots organization.… I think it’s unfortunate when wealthy children of wealthy families… want to send unemployment rates in the United States up to 20 percent.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The Denver Metro Young Republicans post on their blog that the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP) “will be holding a[n economic stimulus] protest on the Colorado Capitol steps tomorrow (Tuesday) from 12:15-2:00.” AFP will become one of the largest and most influential financial and organizational backers of the tea party movement (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After). (Hamsher 4/15/2009)
A rally in Seattle called “Porkulus,” a term popularized by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, draws about 100 participants. The rally is to protest the Obama administration’s economic policies. It is organized by area math teacher Keli Carender, who blogs under the moniker “Liberty Belle.” During the rally, Carender shouts, “We don’t want this country to go down the path to socialism!” eliciting “Hear, hear!” responses. She calls the government’s economic stimulus package (which Limbaugh has dubbed “porkulus”) “the reason we’re in this mess.” She also plays an audiotape of a speech by former President Ronald Reagan. Rally participant Connie White tells a reporter that Congressional Democrats are “ramming things through for their liberal agenda. I’m one of the poor. I used to be middle class. But I don’t want the government helping me.” Carender will become one of the area’s more prominent “tea party” organizers, and after she is brought to Washington, DC, for training by the lobbying group FreedomWorks, becomes part of the nationwide Tea Party Patriots organization. The next day, the day President Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, another “Porkulus” rally occurs in Denver, hours after Obama visits another site in the city to promote the bill. The Denver “Porkulus” rally is sponsored by Americans for Prosperity and the Independence Institute. The next day, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli performs his five-minute “impromptu” rant against the legislation, and calls for “tea party” protests to oppose it (see February 19, 2009). (Kissel 2/17/2009; Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Hundreds of protesters gather on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol to protest President Obama’s signing of the economic stimulus legislative package (see February 16, 2009). The rally is organized by, among others, the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), the Independence Institute, and blogger Michelle Malkin. Former House Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) is one of the speakers, along with a number of state and local Republican politicians. Malkin writes after the rally: “[H]opefully, [the rally] will spur others to move from the phones and computers to the streets. Community organizing helped propel Barack Obama to the White House. It could work for fiscal conservatism, too.” Liberal blogger Jane Hamsher later notes that the Independence Institute is funded by the Coors Foundation’s Castle Rock Foundation, which operates as something of a “mini Heritage Foundation in Colorado.” Beer billionaire and conservative financier Jeffrey Coors sits on the board of the Institute. Hamsher later writes, “According to Michelle Malkin, second rally organized by Koch/Americans for Prosperity, Coors/Independence Institute, former GOP congressman and Independence Institute fellow Tom Tancredo.” (Michelle Malkin 2/17/2009; Hamsher 4/15/2009)
CNBC stock analyst Rick Santelli’s “impromptu” on-air “rant” against President Obama’s economic stimulus program, in which Santelli calls for a “tea party” protest and tells viewers he intends to begin organizing a “Chicago Tea Party,” galvanizes nascent “tea party” groups around the nation. Chicago radio producer Zack Christenson has already registered the Internet domain “chicagoteaparty.com” (see August 2008), and hours after Santelli’s rant Christenson puts up a “homemade” tea party Web site. A Chicago Libertarian activist, Eric Odom (see After November 7, 2008), puts up a similar site at “officialchicagoteaparty.com.” The next day, the short-lived “Nationwide Tea Party Coalition” forms. At the same time, a new Facebook group, “Rick Santelli is right, we need a Taxpayer (Chicago) Tea Party,” is created by Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity, and is administered by Odom. The Facebook page leads back to a site called “taxpayerteaparty.com,” run by Americans for Prosperity. Simultaneously, Brendan Steinhauser, the campaign director of FreedomWorks (see March 2, 2009) and another administrator of the Facebook group, begins organizing “tea party” groups—or actually continues his efforts, since on February 9, 10 days before Santelli’s broadcast, he had contacted a Florida activist who had attended a FreedomWorks training session and asked her to organize a protest in Fort Myers. Steinhauser later writes that the day after Santelli’s broadcast: “I just wrote this little 10 quick easy steps to hold your own tea party, wrote it up, and kinda was proud of it and sent it to Michelle Malkin. She linked to it from her blog.” Malkin’s blog is overwhelmed by the response. FreedomWorks staffers call activists around the country asking them to organize “grassroots” tea party organizations, and on March 9, FreedomWorks announces a nationwide “Tea Party Tour,” saying in a statement, “From [Santelli’s] desperate rallying cry FreedomWorks has tapped into the outrage building from within our own membership as well as allied conservative grassroots forces to organize a 25-city Tea Party Tour where taxpayers angry that their hard-earned money is being usurped by the government for irresponsible bailouts, can show President Obama and Congressional Democrats that their push towards outright socialism will not stand.” By February 27, the first official “tea party” events take place, organized by the Sam Adams Alliance, FreedomWorks, and Americans for Prosperity. Many of the original organizations will eventually be subsumed by, or merge with, national structures, again primarily organized and funded by FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and other right-wing lobbying organizations. Eventually, six nationwide networks will form (see August 24, 2010). (Hamsher 4/15/2009; Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010) During this period, conservative media outlets such as the Weekly Standard will claim that the tea party movement was entirely spontaneous in its origins (see March 2, 2009). However, facts stand in the way of that claim (see February 15, 2009, February 16, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 18, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 6-13, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 28, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 20, 2010).
The right-wing advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), funded largely by Koch Industries (see August 30, 2010), has worked closely with the “tea party” movement since its inception (see February 27, 2009 and April 15, 2009). In the weeks before the first Tax Day protests (see April 8, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 15, 2009), AFP hosts a Web site offering its visitors “Tea Party Talking Points.” The Arizona branch of AFP urges people to send tea bags to President Obama. The Missouri AFP urges its members to sign up for “Taxpayer Tea Party Registration” and provides driving directions to nine protests. After the protests, the North Carolina AFP will launch a “Tea Party Finder” Web site, advertised as “a hub for all the Tea Parties in North Carolina.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Republican lawmakers announce their intention to join with right-wing protesters on April 15, 2009, in what is envisioned as a nationwide protest against the Obama administration’s tax policies. The primary organizers are the think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, and right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin. They say that under President Obama, taxes are “too high” and freedoms are being “eroded.” They have also called for Obama’s impeachment and refer to him as “Obama bin Lyin” and other derogatory nicknames.
Republicans, Neo-Nazis, Secessionists Joining in 'Tea Party Protests' - Malkin has called the movement the “Tea Party Protests,” in an attempt to connect the protests with the American Revolution’s Boston Tea Party. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is sponsoring legislation to honor the protests. Representatives David Davis (R-TN), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), John Fleming (R-LA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Bob Latta (R-OH), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Bill Posey (R-FL), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) will attend local protests, as will Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC) and former Representative J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ). Officials from Senator Bob Corker’s (R-TN) and Representative Sam Graves’s (R-MO) office will attend the rallies as well, and Representatives Denny Rehberg (R-MT), Jack Kingston (R-GA), and Tom Rooney (R-FL) are urging their constituents to attend tea party protests. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who heads American Solutions for Winning the Futures (ASWF) and who will speak at the New York City rally, is encouraging his supporters to join the protests, and has provided them with what he calls a “toolkit” of talking points. ASWF is funded by oil and energy interests, and led the recent “Drill Here, Drill Now” campaign. ASWF has been an official “partner” in the Tea Party campaign since March. The Tea Party Protests are being joined by gun rights militias, secessionists, and neo-Nazi groups.
Protests Orchestrated by Lobbyist Organizations and Promoted by Fox News - The protests are being heavily promoted on Fox News, which intends to hold all-day “news reports” on April 15 featuring several of its commentators, including Glenn Beck (see March 3, 2009), Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, and Greta Van Susteren, live at different venues. Many of the protest organizers’ Web sites feature one or more of the Fox commentators as part of their promotion efforts (see October 13, 2009). Beck is one of several Fox commentators and hosts who claims that the protests are “grassroots” organizations “spontaneously” led by “ordinary people,” but in reality, the protests are being orchestrated by two lobbyist-run and lobbyist-organized organizations, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. According to progressive news site Think Progress, “[t]he two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests.” Freedom Works staffers are coordinating conference calls among protesters and working with conservative organizers to give them what it calls “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country” as well as guides featuring talking points and instructions on delivering a “clear message” to the public and the media. Freedom Works has set up numerous Web sites, some of which Think Progress claims are deliberately constructed to appear as the work of amateurs, to promote the protests. In Florida, Freedom Works took over the planning of events. Americans for Progress is writing press releases and planning events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states. Think Progress calls these activities “corporate ‘astroturfing,’” which it defines as corporations’ attempts to orchestrate events appearing to be grassroots, citizen-led actions. Freedom Works is headed by former Texas Republican Representative Dick Armey, who is a lobbyist for the firm DLA Piper; Americans for Prosperity is headed by Tim Phillips, who is a former partner of right-wing activist Ralph Reed in the lobbying firm Century Strategies. Americans for Prosperity has organized numerous pro-oil company “grassroots” events. (Fang 4/8/2009; Media Matters 4/8/2009; Fang 4/9/2009)
Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress profiles Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative Washington lobbying organization that is planning to coordinate anti-tax “tea party” protests (see April 8, 2009 and April 15, 2009) with a summer push against the White House’s health care reform proposals. AFP is largely funded by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in the US; AFP has long advocated positions favorable to the energy and health care industries. AFP also uses the technique of “astroturfing,” the creation of ostensibly citizen-driven “grassroots” advocacy groups that are actually funded and driven by corporate and lobbying interests. AFP’s most recent creation is a “front group” called “Patients United Now” (PUN), a group explicitly designed to thwart health care reform. PUN’s Web site declares, “We are people just like you,” and actively solicits participation and donations from ordinary Americans without revealing its corporate roots. AFP employs close to 70 Republican operatives and former oil industry officials.
Other 'Astroturf' Campaigns - Think Progress notes that other AFP “Astroturf” groups have organized events such as the “Hot Air Tour” attacking environmental regulation, the “Free Our Energy” movement to promote domestic oil drilling, the “Save My Ballot Tour” which sent conservative activist “Joe the Plumber” (see October 10, 2008) around the country attacking the Employee Free Choice Act, the “No Climate Tax” group aimed at defeating the Clean Energy Economy legislation, and the “No Stimulus” organization, which opposes the Obama administration’s economic policies.
Headed by Former Abramoff Colleague - AFP’s president is Tim Phillips, a veteran conservative lobbyist and “astroturfer.” In 1997, Phillips, then a Republican campaign strategist, joined Christian conservative activists in a new lobbying firm, Century Strategies. The firm promised to mount “grassroots lobbying drives” and explained its strategy as “it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard—and by whom.” Century Strategies was given a boost by Texas GOP political operative Karl Rove, and began its career representing the Texas oil giant Enron. The firm was paid $380,000 to mobilize “religious leaders and pro-family groups” to push energy deregulation on the federal and state level, an effort which helped lead, says Think Progress, “to the energy crisis and economic meltdown of 2001.” As part of their efforts, Phillips and his partner, former Christian Coalition official Ralph Reed, used their congressional connections and “placed” purported “news” articles in the New York Times and other prominent newspapers. Phillips managed the firm’s direct mail subsidiary, Millennium Marketing, which was hired by then-GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to pressure members of Congress to oppose federal wage and worker safety legislation. Phillips and Reed also worked with Abramoff in the lobbyists’ efforts to fraudulently charge Native American tribes millions of dollars in lobbying fees over their efforts to build casinos on tribal lands. And they helped Abramoff launder gambling money. Phillips and Reed are responsible for the ads that helped Republicans win election victories by comparing Democratic candidates to Osama bin Laden, and helped George W. Bush (R-TX) defeat Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2000 by accusing McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child. They were unsuccessful in preventing the 2000 election of Republican Eric Cantor (R-VA) to the House by attacking his Jewish heritage. (Fang 5/29/2009)
Headed by Oil Billionaire, Republican Party Funder - MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will later note that AFP’s director is Art Pope, a multi-millionaire who has given so much money to the North Carolina Republican Party that it named its headquarters after him. The national chairman of AFP is David Koch, who with his brother runs Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US and a longtime supporter of right-wing causes. Koch is the 19th richest man in the world. (MSNBC 8/6/2009)
Moderate Republican House member Mike Castle (R-DE) faces a raucous band of angry conservative protesters at one of his “health care listening tour” meetings. Castle, who is one of eight Republicans to join the Democratic majority in voting for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is challenged by a full range of accusations and conspiracy theories, some ranging far afield from health care reform and energy policy.
'Socialized Medicine' Worse than 9/11 - Some audience members accuse Castle of supporting “socialized medicine.” One member shouts, “I don’t have the answers for how to fix the broken pieces of our health care system, but I know darn well if we let the government bring in socialized medicine, it will destroy this thing faster than the twin towers came down.”
'Cap and Trade' Tax Will Destroy Economy - One audience member shouts that the proposed “cap and trade” tax on pollutants will destroy the US economy. “Do you have any idea what that cap and trade tax thing, bill that you passed is going to do to the Suffolk County poultry industry?” the member says. “That’s how chicken houses are heated, with propane. It outputs CO2. I mean, I’m outputting CO2 right now as I speak. Trees need CO2 to make oxygen! You can’t tax that!”
Global Warming a 'Hoax' - Many audience members respond with cheers and chants to expressions that global warming is a hoax. “I’m actually hopeful that this vote that you made was a vote to put you out of office,” one says to a barrage of applause and cheers. “You know, on this energy thing, I showed you, I had in my email to you numerous times there are petitions signed by 31,000 scientists that that know and have facts that CO2 emissions have nothing to do and the greenhouse effect has nothing to do with global warming. It’s all a hoax! [Applause.] First of all, I cannot for the life of me understand how you could have been one of the eight Republican traitors!” Another audience member says that global warming is “still a theory, so is Darwin’s theory of evolution! And yet we have the audacity to say global warming is accurate, it’s more than a theory? How about how cold it’s been this spring. Personal data, data shows that since 1998 average temperatures have been cooling!”
'Dead Baby Juice' Used to Create AIDS, Swine Flu - Some audience members believe that AIDS and the H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic are part of a conspiracy to kill Americans, using “dead baby juice.” “The virus was built and created in Fort Dix, a small bioweapons plant outside of Fort Dix,” one audience member asserts. “This was engineered. This thing didn’t just crop up in a cave or a swine farm. This thing was engineered, the virus. Pasteur International, one of the big vaccine companies in Chicago, has been caught sending AIDS-infected vaccines to Africa. Do you think I trust—I don’t trust you with anything. You think I’m going to trust you to put a needle full of dead baby juice and monkey kidneys? Cause that’s what this stuff is grown on, dead babies!”
Obama a Kenyan - One audience members wins a round of applause by asserting that President Obama is not an American citizen. “Congressman Castle, I want to know,” she shouts. “I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America saying I’m an American citizen, with a seal on it. Signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator’s name, my parents, the date of birth, the time, the date. I want to go back to January 20th and I want to know why are you people ignoring his birth certificate? He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya!”
Protests Organized by Conservative Lobbying Organizations - According to liberal news and advocacy site Think Progress, Castle and other moderate Republicans are facing orchestrated attacks on their energy and health care policies by conservative lobbying firms and right-wing talk show hosts. Lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009) have tarred Castle and other moderate Republicans as “cap and traitors,” joined by members of Fox News host Glenn Beck’s “9-12” organization (see March 13, 2009 and After) and exhorted by pronouncements from Beck, fellow talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the Web site Prison Planet, and others. (Johnson 7/21/2009)
The citizens’ organization Patients First, a subsidiary of the conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, and May 29, 2009), schedules a 13-state bus tour. The tour is aimed at bringing conservative protesters to rallies and “town hall” meetings where the White House’s controversial health care proposals are being discussed. AFP’s board includes James Miller, a Federal Trade Commission chairman and budget director during the Reagan administration. The tour begins with a “tea party” rally in Richmond. According to AFP official Ben Marchi, organizers will urge constituents to call or visit their senators and sign a petition that asks members of Congress to “oppose any legislation that imposes greater government control over my health care that would mean fewer choices for me and my family and even deny treatments to those in need.” The bus will make 26 stops in Virginia alone before journeying to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Louisiana. Another bus will visit Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri. “Virginians are fired up about health care and what they see as an overreaching federal government,” Marchi says. “We don’t want legislators to come between them and their doctor. The relationship that exists between doctors and patients is sacred and should not be interfered with.” (Meola 7/23/2009; Thrush 7/28/2009)
Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), an anti-health care reform lobbying organization owned by former health care industry executive Rick Scott (see August 4, 2009), sends an e-mail to a listserv called the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee detailing over 100 “town hall” meetings to take place during the August recess. All are to be hosted by Democratic members of Congress, and most will feature discussions of the White House/Congressional Democrats’ health care reform proposals. (Beutler 8/3/2009) The Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee has hundreds of members on its mailing list, and cross-connects to other, larger mailing lists for anti-reform groups such as Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), Patients First, Patients United Now (an affiliate of Americans for Prosperity), and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). CPR features the same list of town hall meetings on its own Web site. The liberal news site TPMDC notes that the same listservs have featured blatantly racist messages such as pictures of President Obama with a bone through his nose (see July 28, 2009). (Conservatives for Patients' Rights 7/2009; Beutler 8/3/2009)
The conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009), in conjunction with the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition, organizes a large protest at a town hall meeting organized by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Michelle Sherrod, a McCaskill aide, intends to discuss the senator’s opinion on the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals with the protesters, but AFP volunteers and associated protesters have a different agenda. The AFP Web alert says, “We hope we can have a vigorous yet courteous exchange Monday evening,” but according to liberal blog OpenLeft, whose contributors videotape part of the proceedings for YouTube, the conservative protesters—numbering somewhere around 1,000—are disruptive, often preventing Sherrod and other citizens from asking or answering questions. AFP later calls the protest a “smashing success.” The Fox News blog, Fox Nation, celebrates the protest with the headline, “Tea Party Protest Erupts During Senator’s Town Hall!” (Americans for Prosperity 7/24/2009; Open Left 7/27/2009; St. Louis Business Journal 7/27/2009; Americans for Prosperity 7/28/2009; Fox Nation 7/29/2009)
An angry conservative protester hangs Representative Frank Kratovil (D-MD) in effigy in front of his office. Other conservative protesters rally around the effigy, waving signs and chanting anti-health care reform slogans. Conservative lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009) quickly distances itself from the incident, saying that it had nothing to do with the protest and disapproved of the tactic. AFP is helping organize raucous, disruptive anti-health care protests around the country. The next day, AFP spokeswoman Amy Menefee will write: “We held an event the previous night, where this man passed out flyers asking people to join him the next day at the office for a protest. That is how some AFP members ended up coming, but they were disgusted by his behavior. I repeat, this gathering WAS NOT an AFP event or sponsored by us in any way.” Conservative blogger Joe Albero, who took the picture featured in many news articles, calls the effigy “despicable” and accuses Democrats of “turn[ing] it around to be something it wasn’t.” (Davis 7/28/2009) The liberal news and advocacy site Think Progress later identifies the protesters as members of Patients First, a subsidiary of AFP. (Terkel 7/28/2009) Reporter Glenn Thrush opines, “If this is the face of anti-health care reform protest, the GOP has a serious problem.” He also confirms that although AFP claims not to have sanctioned the protest, AFP members were in attendance. (Thrush 7/28/2009) Think Progress notes that Menefee, before joining AFP in the beginning of 2009, worked for the Galen Institute, a conservative think tank funded by medical-device and pharmaceutical corporations. (Fang 7/31/2009) One of Kratovil’s colleagues, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), calls the hanging a “shocking and despicable act of hate,” and says “Republicans must condemn it.” (Terkel 7/29/2009) The Democratic National Committee will use the photograph of Kratovil being hung in effigy in ads claiming that the “anti-reform mobs” are being “organized and largely paid for by Washington special interests and insurance companies who are desperate to block reform.” (West 8/6/2009)
Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) receives a hostile reception in a town hall meeting in an Austin grocery store. The meeting is to discuss the controversial Democratic health care reform proposal. The crowd is much larger than some had anticipated, and apparently packed with anti-health care reform protesters; anti-reform and anti-Obama signs are prominently displayed, including signs that read, “No Socialized Health Care.” Protesters also wave signs with Doggett depicted with devil horns, of a marble tombstone with Doggett’s name on it, and with slogans alleging Democrats are Nazis. When Doggett tells the crowd that he will support the reform plan even if his constituents oppose it, many in the crowd begin chanting “Just say no!” and, according to news reports, “overwhelm… the congressman as he move[s] through the crowd and into the parking lot.” One resident says of the meeting: “The folks there thought their voices weren’t being heard. They were angry, but they were respectful. There wasn’t any violence.” Another says, laughing: “He jumped in [his car] and fled. It was like he was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. It was a beautiful thing.” Doggett later notes that because of the disruption, he is unable to engage in discussion with constituents who have other issues, including a father who wants his help in getting his son into a military academy. (Austin American-Statesman 8/3/2009; Herszenhorn and Stolberg 8/3/2009; Ambinder 8/4/2009)
Congressman: Protesters a 'Mob' - Doggett will later characterize the anti-reform protesters as a “mob.” In a statement, he says: “This mob, sent by the local Republican and Libertarian parties, did not come just to be heard, but to deny others the right to be heard. And this appears to be part of a coordinated, nationwide effort. What could be more appropriate for the ‘party of no’ than having its stalwarts drowning out the voices of their neighbors by screaming ‘just say no!‘… Their fanatical insistence on repealing Social Security and Medicare is not just about halting health care reform but rolling back 75 years of progress. I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care. An effective public plan is essential to achieve that goal.” (Thrush 8/3/2009; Hechtkopf 8/3/2009)
Coordinated by Local Republicans, Washington Lobbyist Firm, 'Tea Party' Group - The protest is coordinated by Heather Liggett, a local Republican Party operative, and by officials with the lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which has organized numerous anti-tax “tea party” demonstrations (see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009). Liggett confirms she is part of a national network of conservative organizers putting together anti-reform protests. Doggett says: “This is not a grassroots effort. This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to my event.” Of the event itself, he says: “In Texas, not only with the weather but with the politics, it is pretty hardball around here. I have a pretty thick skin about all of this. But this really goes over the line.” And Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), adds: “Conservative activists don’t want to have a conversation. They want to disrupt.” (Herszenhorn and Stolberg 8/3/2009) Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse says, “The right-wing extremists’ use of things like devil horns on pictures of our elected officials, hanging members of Congress in effigy, breathlessly questioning the president’s citizenship, and the use of Nazi SS symbols and the like just shows how outside of the mainstream the Republican Party and their allies are.” Another group with connections to the “tea party” movement, “Operation Embarrass Your Congressman,” helped organize the protest. It says on its Web site: “These arrogant, ignorant, and insolent [Congress members] have embarrassed America, trampled the Constitution, and ignored their constituents for far too long. Attend their townhall meetings during recess and press them with intelligent questions (unlike the mainstream media), asked in an intelligent manner to see if they are really in touch and on board with ‘the will of the people.’” (Hechtkopf 8/3/2009) After the meeting, FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying organization that actively promotes disruptive behavior at Congressional town halls (see April 14, 2009), posts video from the meeting, and exhorts its members, “If you know of a town hall meeting your Congressman is having, be sure to show up, bring some friends, and them know what you think.” (FreedomWorks 8/3/2009)
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder says that the Democrats are, in part, being beaten in the public perception battle over health care reform because they were caught flat-footed by the wave of angry, if orchestrated, conservative opposition manifesting itself at town hall meetings across America (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). Ambinder writes: “Democrats know the rulebook. The tactics being used against them by Republican and conservative groups were perfected by the party when it set out to defeat President Bush’s Social Security privatization proposals. They also know that it’s easier to gin up noise against a major legislative initiative than it is to sell an initiative that isn’t fully formed yet.… As a Democratic strategist said to me: ‘I think as Dems we learned a lot of lessons from beating Bush on privatization—we know and perfected all the tricks and tactics so we know what to expect from the tea baggers, the insurance companies, and other opponents.’” But because the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats have not yet created a cohesive, easily explained health care reform package, conservatives are finding it easy to attack the various proposals while Democrats flounder in attempting to explain that not-yet-perfected package. It is also easy for conservatives to allege horrific elements of that package which do not exist, but succeed in inflaming public opinion and raising the “fear level” among ordinary citizens. Ambinder concludes: “The press will be complicit in telling the story, as the louder voices at town hall meetings will ultimately get more coverage. As the Democratic National Committee has learned, it’s not easy to engineer a massive national congressional switchboard campaign unless there is a defined target.… The goal of the opposition—of FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity (see April 15, 2009)—isn’t to change minds; their activists know what they believe already: it’s to make noise. Making noise scares members of Congress. And Democrats are vulnerable to panics.” (Ambinder 8/3/2009)
Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), taking part in a town hall meeting in upstate New York hosted by House member Michael Arcuri (D-NY), is browbeaten and verbally assaulted by conservative protesters who are against health care reform. The meeting is to discuss a proposal for a high-speed rail system for the area. “You’re lying to me!” one protester, local conservative activist Don Jeror, screams during the assemblage. “Just because I don’t have sophisticated language, I can recognize a liar when I see one!” Jeror adds, “Why would you guys try to stuff a health care bill down our throats in three to four weeks, when the president took six months to pick a dog for his kids?!” Jeror and many of the activists, who continue to scream and shout over Hoyer during his entire presentation, belong to a group called the “Fort Stanwix Tea Party ‘Patriots.’” House Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), who was recently accosted by conservative protesters during a town hall meeting in his district (see August 1, 2009), says the protests are anything but spontaneous and citizen-driven. “This notion of a grass-roots campaign is totally and completely phony,” he says. “The Republican Party has coordinated this apparent outrage and stirred it up.” While he and fellow Democrats welcome dialogue, he says, “there’s no way you can change the legislation to satisfy any of these Republicans and their insurance allies.” Doggett is referring to allegations that corporate lobbying groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) are behind the protests. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs agrees, saying, “I think what you’ve seen is they have bragged about manufacturing, to some degree, that anger.” Bob MacGuffie, a Connecticut conservative activists who recently wrote a strategy memo directing fellow conservatives in methods to disrupt and dominate town hall meetings (see Late July, 2009), says that while there is organization, the anger and resistance to reform is “most assuredly real.… We’re organizing those voices, but it’s a real emotion, coast to coast.” ABC News reports that polls show the “protesters are not representative of the public at large, which overwhelmingly supports provisions such as ‘requiring insurance companies to sell health coverage to people, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions’ and ‘requiring that all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help for those who can’t afford it.’” (Tapper 8/4/2009; Kleefeld 8/4/2009; WKTV 8/4/2009)
Grover Norquist, the highly influential leader of the conservative activist group Americans for Tax Reform, acknowledges that his group, along with Americans for Prosperity and the National Conservative Union among others, has encouraged its members to attend town hall meetings to protest health care reform proposals (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Norquist also admits that his organization provides talking points, suggested questions to ask, and slogans to chant at the meetings. However, he says his group does not endorse the raucous, sometimes riotous discussions that are taking place. “The more civilly you ask the question, the more powerful it is,” he says. “Nobody says go and scream. That’s the least effective thing you can do.” But a former Republican aide notes, “If you are going to town-hall, you understand the potential pitfalls.” (Bendery and Kucinich 8/5/2009)
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow examines an organization called “Recess Rally,” which is promoting anti-health care protests over the Internet, providing information about upcoming “town hall” forums hosted by Democratic lawmakers, and proclaiming, “We the people say no to socialized health care.” Maddow gives some information on who is organizing Recess Rally. At the bottom of Recess Rally’s home page, a number of sponsors are listed, including conservative blogger and Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin, and conservative blogs such as RedState and Smart Girl Politics.
Funded by Corporate Lobbying Firms, Corporate Interests - Other sponsoring organizations are less easily identifiable as citizen organizations. American Majority is a lobbying organization headed by Ned Ryun, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush; many of the organization’s senior officials are veterans of the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, former Republican lawmakers, and conservative lobbyists. American Majority is itself an offshoot of another organization, the Sam Adams Alliance. That organization is headed by a former executive director of the Illinois State Republican Party, and by a former Dow Chemicals engineer who also heads a large conservative think tank. Another sponsor of Recess Rally is a group called Let Freedom Ring, whose founder provided the funding for the 2008 Republican campaign ads that used footage of the 9/11 attacks to promote the Iraq war. Another sponsor was responsible for the 2004 “Swift Boat” campaign advertisements that besmirched then-presidential candidate Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Two other groups sponsor Recess Rally: Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, and August 1, 2009) and its subsidiary, Patients First (see July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, and August 6, 2009). AFP runs Patients First, which is busing people around the country to demonstrate against health care reform, and another “grassroots” organization, Patients United Now (PUN). Maddow says that groups like these are “experts at fake grassroots campaigns that promote corporate interests.” (AFP president Tim Phillips will call the buses “really good props”—see August 6, 2009.)
Sincere Americans Protesting at Direction of Corporate Interests, PR Firms - Noting that AFP is headed by, among others, oil billionaire David Koch and longtime Republican fund-raiser Art Pope, Maddow says: “This oil industry and Republican operative millionaires’ club is, according to the Republican Party… just average, middle-class Americans—just regular American folks sitting around the kitchen table, thinking about whether they can get away with saying that the government continuing its long standing policy of encouraging living wills is really a secret plot to kill old people (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009). Americans are showing up at these events to shout down the discussion and to chase their congressmen and they are enraged. And they’re enraged at least in part because they’re being riled up by over-the-top, fabricated conspiracy theories about health care. And they’re being directed and orchestrated by the corporate interests that do this for a living and do it very well. RecessRally.com is not some organic outgrowth of American anger. This is how corporate America creates the illusion of a grassroots movement to support their own interests. This is what they do. They are professionals. This is an industry. To talk about these town hall events as some organic outpouring of average American folks who have concerns about health care is to be willfully blind as to what is really going on—which is professional PR operatives generating exploitive, manufactured, strategically deployed outrage in order to line their own pockets. These PR spinmeisters get paid a lot of money for doing it. The corporations they work for get to kill legislation that would hurt their profits. And the real people who they launch into these town hall settings after they’re told that health care reform is a secret commie plot to kill old people and to mandate sex changes—those real people get more and more and more angry, and more and more and more alienated. And ultimately, they get left, like the rest of us, with a health care system that is broken and doesn’t work in the interests of the American people, but does work in the interests of the corporations that profit from the way the system is now. This is professional, corporate-funded, Republican staffed PR, and it should be reported as such.” (Recess Rally 8/2009; MSNBC 8/6/2009)
An anti-health care reform organization, Patients First—a subsidiary of industry lobbyist group Americans for Prosperity (see May 29, 2009 and August 6, 2009)—holds an anti-reform rally in Pueblo, Colorado.
Obama's 'Final Solution' - The keynote speaker tells the assembled crowd that Democratic health care reform will mandate physician-assisted suicide: “If this new Obama-care program comes to fruition, when you reach 65 and every five years thereafter, you’re going to have a counseling session with some federal airhead. Part of this process is called end-of-life counseling and part of the end-of-life counseling can be an end-of-life order. Adolf Hitler issued six million end of life orders. He called his program the final solution. I kind of wonder what we’re going to call ours.” The speaker compares the Obama administration to the regimes of despots Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Pol Pot, and then tells the audience to “go to offices of members of Congress and put the fear of God in them.” (Beutler 8/7/2009; ColoradoPols (.com) 8/7/2009; MSNBC 8/10/2009)
Commentator Blasts Nazi Comparisons - MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow later says: “Put the fear of God in them—because what Obama is doing with killing all these people like Sarah Palin said, that’s like what Hitler did and you know what Hitler deserved. This is the rhetoric that corporate-funded, GOP-allied groups like Americans for Prosperity are funneling through which they set up to look like grassroots organizations to get people to go ‘put the fear of God’ into elected officials.… What has started as rowdy and rude and mean-spirited disruptions has turned, in some cases, into actual violence, with several hospitalizations for minor injuries and some arrests being reported at health care town halls last night (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-8, 2009). What’s also evident is that the anti-reform rhetoric increasingly is invoking specific references to Nazis and specific comparison of President Obama to Adolf Hitler.… You know, there are people alive today who barely survived the Holocaust. And there are many people alive today whose whole families were killed in the Holocaust. Nazism is not a metaphor for a political policy you disagree with. Used deliberately as a strategy to characterize a political opponent, it has a very specific resonance with people looking to justify violence. The implication of conjuring up the Third Reich is that, in the case of someone who’s identified as a Nazi, as a modern day Hitler, violence against that person, even murder, would not only be seen as justified, it might be celebrated. This rhetorical strategy sets the stage for political violence that the perpetrator could hope would be praised. As such the idea of assassination, other kinds of political violence are always in the subtext. And you know, sometimes assassination isn’t even in the subtext. Sometimes it just bubbles right up to the surface.” (MSNBC 8/10/2009)
Tim Phillips, the president of the corporate lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), is interviewed by progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. AFP, like FreedomWorks, Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), and other organizations, is responsible for what Maddow calls “astroturfing” the health care reform debate—creating “fake grassroots organizations” such as Patients First and Patients United Now that purport to represent ordinary citizens, but are in fact entities created and controlled by corporate and/or political interests (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009).
Representing 'Real Folks' - Phillips is jovial with Maddow, insisting that AFP merely represents the interests of “real folks.” When asked who funds AFP’s “grassroots” offshoot, Patients First, instead of answering, Phillips tells Maddow that the organization is made up of patients “just like us. I’m a patient. Rachel, you’re a parent. So I think we’re all patients in this issue. And we all have something at stake here.” Phillips even denies being a Washington lobbyist, but instead calls himself “a community organizer” similar to the position once held by President Obama. “What do you think about that?” he asks. “Maybe I’m qualified to be president.” He finally claims that AFP is funded by citizen donors, though he admits that the bulk of its money comes from foundations such as the Koch Industries Foundations, the grant-giving arm of Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US. Maddow says, “[I]t seems odd to just call yourself patients like us when you’re a huge recipient of funding from a big company, and you’re trying to distinguish yourself from lobbyists and big companies.” Phillips in turn says that to label groups like AFP anything but citizen organizations is “demeaning” to the ordinary citizens who turn out at the rallies and forums. Maddow responds: “I’m not calling anybody, any individual American, a front group. I’m calling Americans for Prosperity’s subgroups a front group for the corporate interest that funds you, guys. Honestly, I mean, that’s the allegation that we’re making here.”
'We Would Love to Have More Corporate Funding' - Phillips says: “[C]orporate interests are a minuscule part of our funding.… And by the way, we would love to have more corporate funding. So if there’s more corporations watching us, feel free to give to us. We’ll be happy to have their support as well. We will get the message out on this health care issue.” He denies ever taking money from Exxon, but says AFP would be more than happy to accept Exxon and other such funding. Maddow notes that Exxon has listed AFP as a recipient of large amounts of money, and Phillips qualifies his statement: “This year, we haven’t had any Exxon money.… But again, though, we’re happy to take corporate money.” Maddow says that she isn’t sure the protesters showing up at the town halls at the behest of AFP know that the organization is funded by oil and health care corporations.
'Gotcha Politics' - After Maddow notes Phillips’s involvement with several Republican political and lobbying campaigns, Phillips accuses her of playing “gotcha politics.” Maddow retorts that Americans “want to know who the players are in this fight and who’s organizing what are being maintained as if they’re just spontaneous efforts happening organically by Americans who are angry and they’re aren’t being coordinated by industry and by lobbyists and by political campaign groups associated with the Republican Party. And that’s why I want to talk about who you are, because you have such an important role in coordinating these events and I think the American people are curious.” In his turn, Phillips says that it is “gotcha politics” that is helping the anti-reform movement win the issue. Before Maddow ends the interview, Phillips invites her to join AFP on the bus tour “as my guest to see these real Americans. Would you do that?” Maddow replies, “I can’t bear the conflict of interest with your corporate funders.” (MSNBC 8/7/2009)
One of the clearest indications that lobbying groups are directing the “grassroots” protests against health care reform comes during a forum held by Representative Tom Perriello (D-VA) in Ruckersville, Virginia. Many of the protesters hold up signs provided by Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009), a corporate-funded lobbying group. One protester tells Perriello, “I’m angry that you ignore the law of the Constitution that requires Obama to prove that he is a natural born citizen.” After the event, the protester confirms that he believes President Obama is not an American citizen, but that he was contacted by AFP’s Ben Marchi to distribute talking points and signs before the event. Marchi is the Virginia state director of Americans for Prosperity and a former staffer for former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. In a related item, a local right-wing blogger calling himself “Send a Rope” attends this meeting. He follows Perriello around from forum to forum, videotaping him and accusing him of being a “traitor” for voting for energy reform. The blogger encourages people to send lengths of rope to the White House and Congress—implying that lawmakers will be lynched if they do not comply with the wishes of the senders—and declares on his Web site: “I don’t think that there are enough trees or rope in Washington, DC, to handle all the traitors you would find there.… I hope it doesn’t come to us having to do what we all think is coming with these guns, but you better be ready if it is.” The blogger does not claim a connection to AFP, but avows his inspiration is drawn in part from Fox News host Glenn Beck. (Fang 8/11/2009)
In an op-ed, the Miami Herald decries the attempt by protesters to disrupt and block discussion at health care forums around the country (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, and August 8, 2009). “[D]on’t confuse the rowdy protests in the health care reform forums with the fine American tradition of talking back to those who wield political power,” the Herald writes. “In forum after forum around the country, including Florida, members of Congress have been shouted down, cursed out, and forced to cancel town hall meetings on health care reform because of bully tactics by opponents of health care proposals. This doesn’t promote debate and the exchange of ideas. Rather, it promotes fear and intimidation—similar to the Cuban government’s goon squads, the so-called repudiation brigades.” The Herald cites a recent forum held by Kathy Castor (D-FL—see August 6, 2009) as an example of an attempted discussion derailed by orchestrated attempts to shout down speakers and audience members alike. The protests often “tak[e] on the character of anti-administration rallies and much of the venom [is] directed at President Obama himself.” The editorial also criticizes the display of posters depicting Obama as Hitler (see August 6, 2009), and notes, “Such outrageous tactics were used against President Bush in protests about the war on terror.” The anger and concern among citizens is real, the Herald acknowledges, “[b]ut staging raucous protests and drowning out real discussion is no way to win the argument. It only leads to more argument.” The Herald goes on to note: “Some of the disruptions, without doubt, are politically motivated and orchestrated by organized opponents of reform. Conservatives for Patients’ Rights and Americans for Prosperity have been linked to some of the public outcries. Genuine grassroots opposition is discredited when the forums turn into shouting matches designed to embarrass public officials and tarnish the reform effort. The anger of protesters at some of these forums is fueled not by the content of health care reform proposals but by disinformation, the hallmark of an orchestrated campaign.” The editorial concludes: “Urge your elected representative to support reform—or not—but give others a chance to speak and be heard. That’s the American way.” (Miami Herald 8/10/2009)
Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), fresh from a contentious “town hall” meeting on health care reform, holds another such forum in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Though the Lebanon auditorium seats only 250, over 1,000 show up for the forum. Those who arrive first get in first, and therefore many anti-reform protesters enter the auditorium to grill Specter, while many union members and pro-reformers are left to mill about in the parking lot outside. Many of the protesters come in response to e-mail alerts sent from local and national anti-tax, anti-reform, and “tea party” organizations, along with Specter’s own mailings. The New York Times reports that many protesters repeat slogans and questions recently aired on conservative talk radio shows, though when asked about their propensity to parrot material from such sources, the reporters receive indignant protestations of the protesters’ independence. Many shout that they are not mob members or puppets, though the chants seem orchestrated, and some of the protesters were bused in by the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009). Many of the protesters, according to the Times, are there to protest about issues other than health care. One protester says health care reform is just one aspect of the Obama administration’s plans for “the dismantling of this country,” a line which draws loud applause. “We don’t want this country to turn into Russia.” One local “tea party” organizer, John Stahl, says the issues debated at the forum go well beyond health care. “We believe there are several issues out there that leave the existence of the Republic at risk,” he says, “not the least of which is this Obamacare.” Many want to talk about enforced euthanasia of elderly citizens (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009), immigration policy, and other concerns. In an attempt to impose some order on the forum, Specter imposes a rigid format, allowing only the first 30 people who wish to speak to submit cards with their questions. He also stands face-to-face with questioners, and allows them to speak fully before giving answers. The auditorium is patrolled by three uniformed Capitol Police officers from Washington as well as local law enforcement. One protester, Craig Miller, becomes involved with the police when he stands close to Specter and bellows, “You are trampling our Constitution!” The officers move in to restrain him but Specter asks them to give Miller his space and allow him to leave the venue under his own power. Miller refuses to leave, and instead shouts, “One day, God is going to stand before you, and he’s going to judge you!” Specter then informs the rowdy, cheering protesters that anyone who disrupts the proceedings will be removed. (Urbina and Seelye 8/11/2009)
The lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is heavily involved in so-called “Astroturf” protests against health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009), announces it will hold three town-hall style meetings in Wisconsin on August 26 and 27. The meetings will take place in the districts of three House members, David Obey (D-WI), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all of whom AFP feels might be open to pressure. ABC reporter John Stossel will moderate the sessions for AFP. (Umhoefer 8/14/2009) Progressive news watchdog Web site Media Matters questions the propriety of Stossel, a supposedly nonpartisan member of the media, moderating the sessions for AFP, an avowedly partisan organization. (Media Matters 8/17/2009)
While many Americans are shocked and upset by the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to award the 2016 Olympics to Chicago (see October 2, 2009), some conservatives cheer the decision as a personal defeat for President Obama, who spoke to the IOC on Chicago’s behalf. The conservative Web site Drudge Report blasts a large headline: “THE EGO HAS LANDED; WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND.” (Huffington Post 10/2/2009) A gathering of conservative lobbyists and officials at Americans for Prosperity erupts in cheering and applause when the news of Chicago’s loss is announced; the video of the reaction quickly makes the rounds of cable news and Internet outlets. (Poulson 10/2/2009) Conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState.com, one of the right’s most influential Internet commentators, celebrates the loss: “Hahahahaha,” he posts. “I thought the world would love us more now that Bush was gone. I thought if we whored ourselves out to our enemies, great things would happen. Apparently not. So Obama’s pimped us to every two-bit thug and dictator in the world, made promises to half the Olympic committee, and they did not even kiss him.” (Erick Erickson 10/2/2009) Fellow conservative blogger Michelle Malkin writes that the IOC decision effectively ends the Obama campaign motto of “Yes We Can” by introducing a new slogan: “No, You Can’t.” Malkin continues: “Like Icarus, President Obama’s giddy ego flight has ended with melted wax and fallen wings. This is a big win and a massive relief for taxpayers. But Chicago cronies are not going to take this well. Gird your loins. Who will be first to cry RAAAAAACIST?” (Michelle Malkin 10/2/2009) The National Review calls the decision an “embarrassment for Obama,” and adds, “If he can’t work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?” (Miller 10/2/2009) Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh gleefully echoes Drudge’s “the ego has landed” headline, and says the decision makes this “the worst day of [Obama’s] presidency.” He claims that Obama “has failed.… We’ve got a two-year-old manchild with a Mars-sized ego, which today crashed and burned.” The loss of the Olympics is a direct reflection of Obama’s foreign policy, Limbaugh claims: “Our president, Barack Hussein Obama, has been running around the world for nine months telling everybody how much our country sucks.… Why would anybody award the Olympics to such a crappy place?… This is a moment of weakness, and weakness invites trouble. You think I’m laughing? What do you think’s happening in Tehran?” And he says, in apparent jest, “Who knew the Olympic Committee was a bunch of racists?” (Portnoy 10/2/2009) The Huffington Post counters that “if Democrats had attacked [former President] George W. Bush for pushing Dallas as an Olympics host, they would immediately have been branded as unpatriotic.” (Huffington Post 10/2/2009)
Oil billionaire David Koch (see August 30, 2010), the founder of “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, and August 6, 2009), makes a rare public appearance at an AFP gathering designed to celebrate the organization’s victories against Obama administration policies (see January 2009 and After). President Obama’s poll numbers are declining, and to a man, Republican senators are refusing to cooperate with the White House or with Congressional Democrats on any issues. Political pundits are labeling Obama “inept,” and “tea party” groups are accusing him of initiating “a government takeover.” Koch praises the AFP members at the event, saying: “Days like today bring to reality the vision of our board of directors when we started this organization, five years ago.… We envisioned a mass movement, a state-based one, but national in scope, of hundreds of thousands of American citizens from all walks of life standing up and fighting for the economic freedoms that made our nation the most prosperous society in history.… Thankfully, the stirrings from California to Virginia, and from Texas to Michigan, show that more and more of our fellow-citizens are beginning to see the same truths as we do.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Reporter Lee Fang of the liberal Center for American Progress writes an op-ed for the Boston Globe comparing the current political attacks against Democratic efforts to reform health care being coordinated by the Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, and November 2009) with the efforts of their father, Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), to label former President John F. Kennedy a traitor and a Communist tool. David Koch recently helped coordinate, from behind the scenes, a protest that compared health care reform to the Holocaust, and other protests that have turned violent. More systematically, he and his reclusive brother Charles have funded such conservative organizations as Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004) and other front groups, none of which bear the Koch name. Fang writes: “Americans for Prosperity’s tactics are not new. Just as Koch inherited his oil business from his father, Americans for Prosperity borrows from the ultra-right group also founded in part by his dad, the John Birch Society” (see 1945 and After, March 10, 1961, 1963, August 4, 2008, and April 26, 2010). Fred Koch helped conceive the far-right, anti-Communist John Birch Society (JBS), which, Fang writes, “cloaked its pro-business, anti-civil rights agenda in the rhetoric of the Cold War.” The JBS labeled Kennedy a Communist-inspired traitor and advocated his impeachment (see November 1963), stood against taxation as another aspect of “creeping Communism” inside the federal government, and claimed that the civil rights movement was being directed by the Soviet Union (see April 13, 2009 and December 11, 2009). The JBS helped promote the 1964 presidential candidacy of Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and helped Republicans win key Congressional seats in 1966. AFP and the JBS are alike, Fang notes, in that they rarely acknowledge their funding from wealthy corporate magnates. Both portray themselves as grassroots organizations that are dedicated to promoting freedom. For a time, the JBS succeeded in aligning the interests of the very rich with the idea of anti-Communist patriotism. Similarly, AFP promotes the interests of the extremely wealthy, including the Koch brothers, as synonymous with patriotic opposition to health care reform, financial regulation, net neutrality, and the estate tax. All are labeled as “socialist,” a favorite JBS epithet. Fang concludes that “[w]ith his millions,” David Koch will have “contributed greatly to the obstruction of universal health care, the denial of climate change, and the derailment of much of President Obama’s domestic agenda. His dad would be pleased.” (Fang 12/6/2009)
The New York Times publishes a large front-page story on America’s “tea party” movement. The report is written by staff reporter David Barstow, who researched the story for five months, first joining a bus tour by the Tea Party Express (see August 28, 2009) and then staying for the month of October in and around Spokane, Washington, to interview tea party members and others, such as white supremacist militia members, who have some affiliation with tea party organizations. The first person he mentions is a retiree named Pam Stout, who once worked for federal housing programs and is now aghast at the government’s handling of the economic crisis. She told Barstow that one day “she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated—even manufactured—by both parties to grab power.” She went to a tea party rally, then a meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots, where she surprised herself by nominating herself for president. Under her leadership, the Sandpoint group joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project (see March 13, 2009 and After), the extremist, anti-Communist John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), and the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), a far-right militia organization. Stout told Barstow that her family worries that she has become enmeshed in a group of conspiracy theorists and ad hoc revolutionaries, but she said she has never felt more engaged. (Barstow 2/15/2010; Marx 2/18/2010)
Increasing Tilt towards Anti-Government Militia Ideology - Barstow writes that many tea party members are like Stout, with an inclination to conservative anti-government politics, but also with a fear of eventual government tyranny that has driven them to join the movement. “These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the tea party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement,” he writes, “a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates, and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve. Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show.” Many tea partiers hold former President Bush and President Obama in equal contempt, holding them jointly responsible for deliberately undermining the Constitution and the free market system “for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites” (see February 4-8, 2010). Coalition groups like Friends of Liberty are “forming hybrid entities of tea parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. A fear of government tyranny is one of the most common ideological threads running through virtually all tea party organizations.”
Targeting Republicans as Well as Democrats - Barstow continues: “These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal—a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain” and other Republicans whom they consider part of the “government conspiracy” to destroy democracy. While tea parties routinely target Democrats in elections, they are also targeting more moderate Republicans, especially those who support ideas or legislation that they feel is part of the “conspiracy.” Republicans who supported the government bailouts of large corporations are being targeted, as are those who support global warming legislation or who have shown any impetus to work with the White House or with Congressional Democrats (see January 29, 2010). Barstow notes that the tea party movement is anything but homogenous and rigidly organized: “It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure.” Some groups are “essentially appendages of the local Republican Party,” but many are not. However, many of the beliefs espoused by individual tea partiers tend to be reflected in most groups. Not all believe that Obama wants to impose a dictatorship, with or without McCain’s help, but many do. The frustration expressed by Stout in the economy and the government’s response to it is echoed throughout tea party groups in every state.
Turning to Radical Ideologies and Conspiracy Theorists - One of the tea partiers’ favorite thinkers is Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck (see March 29, 2009). Beck’s often-revisionist, often-inaccurate opinions led many tea partiers to read the Federalist Papers (or, more often, right-wing blogs about the Federalist Papers), conspiracist “exposes” of the Federal Reserve, and the novels of Ayn Rand and George Orwell. Online resources tailored for tea party organizations provide a wealth of what Barstow calls “radical critiques of Washington.” Two of the primary sites are ResistNet.com and InfoWars, both of which combine far-right ideology with a plethora of conspiracy theories covering everything from 9/11 and the Federal Reserve to the New World Order (see September 11, 1990). Some tea partiers are joining with militia groups, or forming their own, and making stockpiles of food, gold, and weaponry to prepare for the end of civilization. Many tea party leaders say they believe that a return to a strict adherence to constitutional law would solve most of the nation’s problems, but many of them espouse a radical view of the Constitution, such as that delineated by radical Constitutional revisionist W. Cleon Skousen (first popularized among the tea party community by Beck—see 1963). Many want to completely do away with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the federal income tax, and most government agencies, all of which they say violate the Constitution. Some go even farther, advocating secession, states “nullfying” federal laws, and the formation of citizen militias. The tea parties in the Pacific Northwest, Barstow writes, have been shaped by influences such as libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and by the sometimes-violent anti-government activism of northern Idaho (see Early 1970s, 1980-1982, 1983-1995, and February 15, 1995). The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992), which occurred in nearby Idaho, is a touchstone for many tea partiers, just as it was for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see August 21-31, 1992). Many, but not all, tea party members and groups embrace the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not a natural American citizen. A favorite news blog, WorldNetDaily, routinely electrifies the movement by warning of new White House plans to build massive internment camps and stuff them with tea party members, or of plans to send waves of United Nations troops throughout the nation to confiscate Americans’ guns. ResistNet regularly warns that Obama is trying to convert Interpol, the international police organization, into his own personal police force, and advises tea partiers to “grab their guns.” Tea partiers like Mary Johnson of New Mexico points to the Bush-era wiretapping scandal as proof that the government can, and is, preparing to bring democracy to an end. As the groups’ fear and contempt for the federal government grows, Barstow writes, they turn more frequently to “fringe” groups such as white supremacist, anti-government militias. In Indiana, a militia coalition called Defenders of Liberty is networking with tea party groups and other “Patriot” organizations throughout the state. Darin Stevens, the leader of the Spokane 9/12 project, told Barstow that before tuning in to Beck’s show, he had paid almost no attention to politics. After the recession hit and his personal financial structure started to collapse, he began watching Beck. “I had no clue that my country was being taken from me,” he explains. He began the Spokane chapter of Beck’s 9/12 project, and was astounded that 110 people attended the first meeting. Stevens now belongs to the Oath Keepers as well as the 9/12 Project. Spokane tea partier Leah Southwell became a convert after stumbling on Paul’s speeches on YouTube. Southwell turned from being a successful Mary Kay makeup sales representative to being a self-described member of “the uprising.” Southwell, through Paul, is now fully supportive of the Patriot ideology, and holds as evident truth a number of conspiracy theories involving the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations. “The more you know, the madder you are,” she told Barstow. “I mean when you finally learn what the Federal Reserve is!” Southwell is now a local official with the John Birch Society. She says that the affiliation between organizations like the JBS and the tea parties will continue to grow: “Most of these people [tea partiers] are just waking up.” Former car salesman Richard Mack, a longtime militia supporter who co-wrote Ruby Ridge survivor Randy Weaver’s memoirs, is a favorite speaker at tea party events. “People just do not trust any of this,” Mack told Barstow. “It’s not just the fringe people anymore. These are just ordinary people—teachers, bankers, housewives.”
Amorphous Structure - Local tea party groups often join, in one degree or another, one of several competing national tea party organizations such as ResistNet or the Tea Party Express, most of which are organized, staffed, and funded by conservative lobbying groups such as FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009) or Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After). Some tea party groups have been joined by, or in some cases overrun by, other groups, from “birthers” to militias, supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, pro-gun groups, and the sovereign states movement. Many coalitions such as Friends of Liberty were formed in opposition to what leaders called the endless “hijack attempts” by state and county Republican Parties. Dann Selle of the Official Tea Party of Spokane told Barstow, “We had to stand our ground, I’ll be blunt.”
Support from Elected Politicians - Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and a possible 2012 Republican candidate for president, has joined with Texas tea parties in supporting the state’s secession from the United States. Nevada Republican Joe Heck, who ran for Congress in 2008, attacked both parties for moving the nation towards “socialist tyranny” and solicited tea party support at a rally in Las Vegas. Indiana Republican Richard Behney, running for the US Senate, told tea party supporters that if the 2010 elections did not turn out to his liking: “I’m cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I’m serious about that, and I bet you are, too.” (Barstow 2/15/2010)
During a tea party protest against the Democratic attempt to reform health care in front of the Columbus, Ohio, office of Representative Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), one protester, Chris Reichert, confronts a counter-protester, Robert Letcher, and verbally mocks his illness. Letcher suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and when Reichert accosts him, is sitting down in front of the anti-reform protesters carrying a sign announcing his illness. The sign reads: “‘Got Parkinson’s?’ I Do and You Might. Thanks for helping! That’s community!” The incident begins when an unidentified man berates Letcher, saying: “If you’re looking for a hand-out, you’re on the wrong end of town. Nothing for free over here, you have to work for everything you get.” Reichert then steps out of the crowd, bends over Letcher, waggles his finger in Letcher’s face, throws a pair of dollar bills in his face, and says: “I’ll pay for this guy. Here you go. Let’s start a pot, I’ll pay for you.” He throws more dollar bills at Leichert, and shouts: “I’ll decide when to give you money. Here. Here’s another one.… No more handouts.” Letcher, a former nuclear engineer who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000, later explains: “I feel I embody the controversy that was being fought out. No one was engaging, everyone was screaming. I thought, I don’t have to scream, I just have to be there. I walked over and sat down.… I sort of presented myself as an argument by myself.” Kilroy and Democratic supporters immediately condemn Reichert’s actions, and Kilroy enters a link to a YouTube video of the incident into the Congressional Record. Reichert initially denies doing anything of the sort, but the videos prove his involvement. He eventually admits his actions, and will explain: “I snapped. I absolutely snapped and I can’t explain it any other way.” He will continue: “He’s got every right to do what he did and some may say I did too, but what I did was shameful. I haven’t slept since that day. I made a donation [to a local Parkinson’s disease group] and that starts the healing process.… I wanted this to go away, but it won’t and I’m paying the consequences.” Reichert will go on to say that he fears for the safety of himself and his family after reading some of the comments people have posted on the Internet. “I’ve been looking at the Web sites,” he will say. “People are hunting for me.” Reichert says he is a registered Republican, but is not politically active: “That was my first time at any political rally and I’m never going to another one. I will never ever, ever go to another one.” (Candisky 3/17/2010; Elliot 3/19/2010; Candisky 3/24/2010; Magloff 3/25/2010) The progressive news blog TPM LiveWire later says Reichert may be connected to the conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP). The videos show him carrying an “I am AFP!” sign under his arm. AFP’s Ohio director, Rebecca Heimlich, says she does not know either Reichert or the other man who berates Letcher in the video. She states: “I have seen the video and found [Reichert]‘s behavior completely inappropriate. Americans for Prosperity certainly does not encourage or condone harassing behavior. Our goal is to send a message to Rep. Kilroy that we oppose this health care takeover bill. We always encourage our members to be considerate of others in their demonstrations.” AFP is a financial supporter of a number of tea party organizations, and sometimes helps the groups coordinate their rallies and actions. (Elliot 3/22/2010; Elliot 3/24/2010)
Charles and David Koch, the oil billionaires who are behind the conservative tea party movement (see 1940 and After, 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, Late 2004, October 2008, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 2010, August 17, 2011 and October 4, 2011), begin to build a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters that they intend to use to drive conservative votes in elections, beginning with the 2012 Republican primaries and on to the November 2012 general presidential election. The database is nicknamed “Themis,” after the Greek goddess of divine law and order who imposes order on human affairs. According to The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, “the Koch brothers are close to launching a nationwide database connecting millions of Americans who share their anti-government and libertarian views, a move that will further enhance the tycoons’ political influence and that could prove significant in next year’s presidential election.” Pilkington writes that Themis will bring together “the vast network of alliances” the brothers have formed over the last 20 years. (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011) Patrick Glennon of In These Times writes: “Email lists, phone numbers, and other contact information from disperse sources will merge into a comprehensive and streamlined political weapon. Purportedly, the database will also include extensive information relating to occupation and income levels, useful details for targeted fundraising initiatives.” (Vogel 10/10/2011) The database begins in April 2010, and is expected to be completed and functional by the end of 2011. Few details of the project are known; development leader Karl Crow, a Washington lawyer and longtime Koch advisor, refuses to speak about it, as do media representatives of Koch Industries. A member of a Koch affiliate organization who specializes in the political uses of new technology says in November 2011 that the project is almost ready to go live: “They are doing a lot of analysis and testing. Finally they’re getting Themis off the ground.” The project is intended to, Pilkington writes, “bring together information from a plethora of right-wing groups, tea party organizations, and conservative-leaning thinktanks. Each one has valuable data on their membership—including personal email addresses and phone numbers, as well as more general information useful to political campaign strategists such as occupation, income bracket, and so on. By pooling the information, the hope is to create a data resource that is far more potent than the sum of its parts. Themis will in effect become an electoral roll of right-wing America, allowing the Koch brothers to further enhance their power base in a way that is sympathetic to, but wholly independent of, the Republican Party.” The specialist tells Pilkington, “This will take time to fully realize, but it has the potential to become a very powerful tool in 2012 and beyond.” Themis is modeled in part on a project called Catalyst, a voter list that compiled and shared data about progressive groups and campaigns (see Late 2004 and After) and helped Democrats regain momentum after the 2004 defeat of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011; Glennon 11/8/2011) The 2008 Obama campaign used social media outreach techniques to augment Catalyst’s database. Themis apparently incorporates many of those social-media and other interactive features in its construction. (Lachkovic 12/19/2011) Josh Hendler, the former director of technology of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), tells Pilkington that Themis could do for the GOP what Catalyst helped do for the Democrats. “This increases the Koch brothers’ reach,” he says. “It will allow them to become even greater coordinators than they are already—with this resource they become a natural center of gravity for conservatives.” Mary Boyle of the political watchdog group Common Cause says of the reclusive brothers, “What makes them unique is that they are not just campaign contributors; they are a vast political network in their own right.” Themis will only deepen the Koch brothers’ control of American right-wing politics, Pilkington observes. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel writes that the Kochs intend to spend at least $200 million in 2012 on the Republican presidential campaign and other related activities. Pilkington writes: “Their potential to sway the electorate through the sheer scale of their spending has been greatly enhanced by Citizens United, last year’s controversial ruling by the US Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate donations in political campaigns. The ruling allows companies to throw unlimited sums to back their chosen candidates, without having to disclose their spending. That makes 2012 the first Citizens United presidential election, and in turn offers rich pickings to the Koch brothers.” Themis will help the Kochs “micro-target” voters and potential fundraisers. Pilkington writes that it is reasonable to assume that Koch-funded lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are part of Themis, as are Koch-funded think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. “Between them, they have tentacles that extend to millions of voters,” Pilkington writes. Liberal reporter and blogger Lee Fang says the impact of Themis and the Koch funding on the 2012 presidential campaign will be immense: “This will be the first major election where most of the data and the organizing will be done outside the party nexus. The Kochs have the potential to outspend and out-perform the Republican Party and even the successful Republican candidate.” (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011; Glennon 11/8/2011)
Dave Schwartz, the Maryland state director for the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), which funds and directs many tea party organizations, writes an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun praising the tea party movement for its successes and calling for it to eschew the conspiracy theories (see February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, August 24, 2010, September 2010, October 19, 2010, and August 17, 2011) that have often characterized it up to this point. “We must distance ourselves from ‘birthers,’ ‘truthers,’ and those who wish to use our enthusiasm for unrelated causes,” he writes, referring to two popular theories: that President Obama is not an American citizen, and that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by members of the Bush administration or others in the federal government. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States and was elected by a majority of voters. He is a father and a husband, and he has reached the pinnacle of his career through hard work and determination. We simply have a philosophical disagreement with him about the role of government in society. The tea party should fight the president’s and governor’s big-government policies with thoughtful solutions, not personal attacks.” He concludes by advising readers that “[f]or this movement to be a lasting political force, we must remain independent,” apparently referring to calls by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich for the tea party movement to join the GOP (see February 16, 2010 and April 21, 2010). (Schwartz 4/15/2010)
The advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Foundation, founded by right-wing billionaire David Koch in 2004 (see Late 2004 and August 30, 2010), holds a weekend summit called “Texas Defending the American Dream” in Austin, Texas.
Koch-Funded, Koch Brand Not in Evidence - Neither David Koch nor his brother, Charles, attend the affair, and the name Koch is not in evidence. An advertisement for the event portrays it as a populist uprising against vested corporate power, stating: “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests. But you can do something about it.” The ad makes no mention that the event is funded by Koch Industries, the second-largest private corporation in the US. Of Americans for Prosperity, Obama adviser David Axelrod says, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”
Funding and Training the Tea Parties - Koch Industries has long denied that it has any connection to tea party organizations, and has denied that either the firm or the Koch brothers have funded any tea party groups (see February 27, 2009 and April 15, 2009). David Koch has denied ever being approached by tea party representatives. But at the Austin event, event organizer Peggy Venable—an AFP employee who has worked for Koch-funded political groups since 1994—tells the crowd, “We love what the tea parties are doing, because that’s how we’re going to take back America!” She calls herself one of the earliest members of the tea party movement, telling a reporter, “I was part of the tea party before it was cool!” AFP, she says, is in business to help “educate” tea party activists on policy details and to train them for further activism so that their political energy can be channelled “more effectively.” AFP has provided tea party organizers with lists of elected Democrats to target. Of the Kochs, she says: “They’re certainly our people. David’s the chairman of our board. I’ve certainly met with them, and I’m very appreciative of what they do.”
'Victory or Death!' - Some 500 people attend the event, which features training seminars for “tea party” activists around the state and a series of speakers launching blunt attacks against President Obama and his administration. Venable warns the attendees that the Obama administration has “a socialist vision for this country.” She gives the Texas AFP “Blogger of the Year” award to a woman named Sibyl West, who recently called Obama the nation’s “cokehead in chief.” Featured speaker Janine Turner, an actress best known for her role in the TV series Northern Exposure, tells the audience: “They [Obama and the Democratic Party] don’t want our children to know about their rights. They don’t want our children to know about a God!” Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz tells the crowd that Obama is “the most radical president ever to occupy the Oval Office,” and has a hidden agenda: “the government taking over our economy and our lives.” Defeating Obama and his “secret agenda” is, Cruz says, “the epic fight of our generation!” As the crowd gives him a standing ovation, Cruz shouts the words said by a Texan at the Alamo: “Victory or death!” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) issues a comprehensive, multi-part report on the American “tea party” movement. The report is written by IREHR vice president Devin Burghart and IREHR president Leonard Zeskind, both accomplished authors and researchers. The report examines six national organizational networks which Burghart and Zeskind say are “at the core of the tea party movement.” These six include: the FreedomWorks Tea Party; the 1776 Tea Party (“TeaParty.org”); Tea Party Nation; Tea Party Patriots; ResistNet; and the Tea Party Express. The report examines their origins, structures, leadership, policies, funding, membership, and relations with one another. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Data Collection Methodology - The authors provide details of their data collection methodology in a separate section of the report. (Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
Racism, Anti-Semitism Rampant in Many (Not All) Tea Party Organizations - The report explicitly notes that “[i]t would be a mistake to claim that all tea partiers are nativist vigilantes or racists of one stripe or another.” It shows that while tea party organizations, and many media outlets, paint tea partiers as concentrated primarily on “budget deficits, taxes, and the power of the federal government,” in reality many tea party organizations are very focused on racial, nationalist, and other social issues (see January 14, 2010). The report finds: “In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a ‘real American.’ Rather than strict adherence to the Constitution, many tea partiers are challenging the provision for birthright citizenship found in the 14th Amendment.” Many (not all) tea party organizations open their ranks “to anti-Semites, racists, and bigots,” the report finds, and in many of those organizations, the racists and bigots have leadership positions. And, it finds, white supremacist organizations routinely attend and even present at tea party rallies, “looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protesters towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy.” The report notes that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is trying to find money and support among tea party organizations to launch a 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The leaders of the 1776 Tea Party organization “were imported directly from the anti-immigrant vigilante organization, the Minuteman Project,” the report notes. Tea Party Nation has attracted a large contingent of so-called “birthers,” Christian nationalists, and nativists, many of whom display openly racist sentiments; some other tea party organizations have now distanced themselves from that particular group. ResistNet and Tea Party Patriots, the two largest “umbrella” organizations or networks, are also rife with anti-immigrant nativists and racists; the Tea Party Patriots have openly embraced the idea of the repeal of the 17th Amendment (see April 8, 2010). At least one group, the Washington DC-based FreedomWorks Tea Party, has made some efforts to focus its actions solely on economic issues and eschew social or religious issues; those efforts have largely failed. There is a large and disparate “schema” of racist organizations and belief systems in America, the report notes, from Nazi sympathizers to “America-first isolationists,” “scientific” racists, nativists, “paleoconservatives,” and others. Generally, the more mainstream and less extremist racist movements and persons gravitate to tea party organizations. “[T]he white nationalist movement is divided between two strategic orientations: the go-it-alone vanguardists and the mainstreamers who seek to win a majority following among white people. It is decidedly the mainstreamers, such as the Council of Conservative Citizens… who seek to influence and recruit among the tea partiers.” The same can be said of militia groups: the more mainstream of these organizations are the ones taking part in, and recruiting at, tea party events. The two—racist and militia groups—have, of course, a heavy overlap in membership and belief structures. Tea party leaders and members tend to strongly dispute evidence that their fellows espouse racist beliefs. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010; Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
Economic Beliefs Tied to Anger at Immigrants, 'Undeserving Poor' - The tea parties are most often characterized as anti-tax economic conservatives who oppose government spending; however, the report finds, “there is no observable statistical link between tea party membership and unemployment levels.… And their storied opposition to political and social elites turns out to be predicated on an antagonism to federal assistance to those deemed the ‘undeserving poor.’” Many tea party members and organizations, including some of the movement’s most visible political leaders, are openly anti-immigrant. The House’s Tea Party Caucus, led by Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), has a significant overlap with the members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, led by tea party supporter Brian Bilbray (R-CA). The Immigration Reform Caucus has introduced legislation that would end the Constitution’s principle of “birthright citizenship.” The racist and anti-immigrant themes at play in many tea party organizations have dovetailed in these organizations’ attacks on President Obama as being a “non-American.” The report observes: “The permutations go on from there: Islamic terrorist, socialist, African witch doctor, lying African, etc. If he is not properly American, then he becomes the ‘other’ that is not ‘us.’ Five of the six national factions have these ‘birthers’ in their leadership; the only exception being FreedomWorks.”
'Nationalism' of Tea Parties - Most tea party organizations hark back to the Revolutionary War era and the Founding Fathers as their forebears, sometimes even dressing in 18th-century costumes, waving the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and claiming that the US Constitution as written should be the touchstone of all legislative policies. However, the report notes that their “American nationalism” is hardly inclusive: “[T]heirs is an American nationalism that does not always include all Americans. It is a nationalism that excludes those deemed not to be ‘real Americans’; including the native-born children of undocumented immigrants (often despised as ‘anchor babies’), socialists, Moslems, and those not deemed to fit within a ‘Christian nation.’” The report connects the tea parties’ concept of nationalism (see October 19, 2010) back to the “America First” ideology of Father Charles Coughlin, a vocal anti-Semite and supporter of Nazism (see October 3, 1926 - 1942). The report notes: “As the Confederate battle flags, witch doctor caricatures, and demeaning discourse suggest, a bright white line of racism threads through this nationalism. Yet, it is not a full-fledged variety of white nationalism. It is as inchoate as it is super-patriotic. It is possibly an embryo of what it might yet become.”
Multi-Million Dollar Complex Heavily Funded by Right-Wing Foundations - The tea party movement presents itself as a loose confederation of ground-up, grassroots groups and organizations put together by principled citizens driven by their political and social concerns. However, the reality is that many tea party organizations are for-profit corporations and/or political action committees, with some equally well-funded non-profit corporations included in the mix. Collectively, they have succeeded at trumping the Democrats’ advantage in Web-based mobilization and fundraising.
Resurrection of 'Ultra-Conservative Wing of American Political Life' - The report finds that the tea party organizations “have resuscitated the ultra-conservative wing of American political life, created a stiff pole of opinion within Republican Party ranks, and they have had a devastating impact on thoughtful policy making for the common good, both at the local and state as well as at the federal levels.” The report finds: “The tea party movement has unleashed a still inchoate political movement by angry middle class (overwhelmingly) white people who believe their country, their nation, has been taken from them. And they want it back.” Whom they apparently “want it back” from is from non-white Americans. The report notes that the tea party slogan, “Take It Back, Take Your Country Back” is “an explicitly nationalist refrain. It is sometimes coupled with the assertion that there are ‘real Americans,’ as opposed to others who they believe are driving the country into a socialist ditch.”
Three Levels of Structure - As with most entities of this nature, there are three fundamental levels to the “tea party structure.” Some 16 to 18 percent of Americans say they have some sympathy with tea party ideals—these citizens, numbering in the tens of millions, form the outer ring of the structure. The next ring as an ill-defined group of perhaps two million activists who go to meetings and rallies, and buy literature. The core is composed of some 250,000 heavily involved members who take part in the Web-directed activities of the tea party organizations. The report focuses on this group as the hub of what it calls “tea party nationalists.” As time goes on, the tea parties continue to add members to their ranks. The Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet are, at this time, experiencing the fastest rate of growth; the report notes, “This would tend to indicate a larger movement less susceptible to central control, and more likely to attract racist and nativist elements at the local level.” The tea parties as a whole will continue to wield their influence on American political and social debates, though the tea parties may begin to splinter as some members move into the more structured Republican Party apparatus and others move towards the more extremist white nationalist organizations. The report does not include local groups not affiliated with one or the other of the national networks, and the ancillary organizations that have worked alongside the tea parties since their inception. The report notes some of these ancillary organizations as Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty (see August 4, 2008), Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), the National Precinct Alliance, and the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011). The report also notes the existence of the “9-12 movement” (see March 13, 2009 and After), but does not count that as a separate network, and goes on to note that after the 2009 9-12 rally in Washington (see September 12, 2009), many 9-12 groups joined a tea party organization. (Burghart and Zeskind 8/24/2010)
Response - Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, responds to the release of the IREHR report by saying: “Here we go again. This is typical of this liberal group’s smear tactics.” Phillips does not cite examples of the report’s “smear tactics.” (Thomas 10/19/2010)
Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes an op-ed focusing on the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and October 4, 2011), the oil magnates who are the driving force behind the tea party movement. Rich writes that “even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.” Rich, using information from historian Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Invisible Hands, notes that the Kochs are the latest in a long line of behind-the-scenes corporate manipulators “who have financed the far right (see September 2010 and August 17, 2011) ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down” the Roosevelt administration (see August 23, 1934 and After). “You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal ‘socialism’ of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on [the Kennedy administration] and Medicare (see 1962 and November 1963) to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our ‘socialist’ president,” Rich writes. “Only the fat cats change—not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government ‘handouts’ to the poor, unemployed, ill, and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred (see 1940 and After), was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of ‘a takeover’ of America in which Communists would ‘infiltrate the highest offices of government in the US until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.’ That rant could be delivered as is at any tea party rally today.” Rich also focuses on FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011), one of the two “major sponsor[s]” of the tea party movement, along with Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011). Both FreedomWorks and AFP are heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Rich writes: “Tea partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government, and [President] Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety, and the subsistence of the elderly.” Rich writes that the Koch brothers’ agenda is “inexorably… morphing into the GOP agenda,” and points to Republican luminaries such as incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-MO) and tea party candidates such as Rand Paul (see March 27, 2010, May 17, 2010, October 25, 2010 and After, October 26, 2010 and November 10, 2010), Sharron Angle (see January 2010, Mid-May, 2010, Mid-June 2010, June 16, 2010 and September 18, 2010), and Joe Miller (see July 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, October 17, 2010, October 17, 2010 and October 18, 2010). “The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests,” Rich concludes. (Rich 8/28/2010)
The New Yorker publishes a lengthy analysis of the Koch (pronounced “coke”) financial empire, and its long-time financial support for right-wing causes (see 1981-2010). The article, written by investigative reporter Jane Mayer, shows that Koch Industries, led by brothers David and Charles Koch, has donated over $250 million to Republican and conservative politicians and organizations since the mid-1990s. The Koch brothers are also well-known philanthropists, having given millions to New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, $100 million to the Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, $40 million to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History, and $10 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Second-Largest Private Industry in US - Koch Industries, a $100 billion conglomerate, garners most of its profits from oil refineries and associated interests; it owns the firms that manufacture Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber and paper products, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra fabric. Koch Industries is the second largest private company in the US after Cargill, and taken together, the Koch brothers’ fortune of some $35 billion places them just behind Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Wall Street financier Warren Buffett as the nation’s richest people.
Longtime Libertarians - Personally, the Koch brothers espouse a libertarian philosophy—drastic reductions in corporate and personal taxes, huge cuts in government expenditures on social services, and widespread deregulation of industry, particularly environmental. Koch Industries was recently listed in the top 10 of US air polluters, and has for years funded organizations that oppose climate change, giving even more than ExxonMobil to organizations, foundations, and think tanks that work to derail or overturn climate change legislation. Koch funds so many different organizations that oppose various initiatives of the Obama administration that Washington insiders call the Koch ideological network the “Kochtopus.” While the Koch brothers have protested being characterized as major supporters of the right-wing agenda—David Koch has complained that the “radical press” is intent on making him and his brother into “whipping boys”—Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, says: “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.” The Kochs have embraced the pure free-market ideology of economist Friedrich von Hayek, who argued that any form of centralized government would lead to totalitarianism and that only complete, unregulated capitalism could ensure freedom. Many “tea party” supporters, such as Fox News host Glenn Beck, have openly embraced von Hayek’s ideals.
Inculcated Ideals of Anti-Communist Father - Both brothers are steeped in the anti-Communist, anti-government, minority-disparaging views of their father, Koch Industries co-founder Fred Koch (see 1940 and After).
Using the 'Tea Parties' - Conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, who has worked at a Koch-funded think tank, says that the Kochs are playing on the anti-government fervor of the “tea parties” to further their pro-business, libertarian agenda. “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians,” Bartlett says. “There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the “tea parties,” Bartlett says, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power. [The Kochs are] trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.” A Republican campaign consultant who has worked for the Kochs says of the tea party movement: “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!” The consultant says that the Kochs keep an extremely low profile, in part to avoid accusations that they are funding an “astroturf” movement (see April 15, 2009). A former Koch adviser says: “They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.” Democratic political strategist Rob Stein, who has studied the conservative movement’s finances, says the Kochs are “at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it’s not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism.” Since a 2009 rally attended by David Koch (see November 2009), the brothers have all but explicitly endorsed the tea party movement, with David Koch praising it for demonstrating the “powerful visceral hostility in the body politic against the massive increase in government power, the massive efforts to socialize this country.” Echoing the sentiments of many tea party leaders, Charles Koch said in a newsletter sent out to Koch Industry employees that President Obama is comparable to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Strategy - Charles Koch told a reporter that “[t]o bring about social change” requires “a strategy” that is “vertically and horizontally integrated,” spanning “from idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to litigation to political action.… We have a radical philosophy.” The Kochs launched their first “think tank,” the libertarian Cato Institute, in 1977 (see 1977-Present), which has been effective in promoting corporate tax cuts, deregulation, cuts in social spending, and in opposing governmental initiatives to combat climate change. Other Koch-funded institutes such as the Heritage Foundation and the Independent Women’s Forum have also publicly opposed efforts to combat climate change. History professor Naomi Oreskes, the author of a book, Merchants of Doubt, that chronicles attempts by American industries to manipulate public opinion on science, says that the Kochs have a vested interest in keeping the government from addressing climate change. “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels,” she says, “a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.” David Koch has said that though he doesn’t believe that any global warming effects have been caused by human activities, if indeed the globe is warming, it will benefit society by lengthening growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. Several years after founding Cato, the Kochs provided millions in funding to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, which Stein describes as “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” Mercatus is headed by Richard Fink, a Koch Industries lobbyist and president of several Koch-funded foundations. Mayer describes Fink as the chief political lieutenant of the Koch brothers. Mercatus was quite successful at having the Bush administration adopt a number of its deregulatory strategies, particularly environmental deregulation. Like Cato, critics of Mercatus accuse it of serving the brothers’ corporate needs while hiding behind the facade of a nonpartisan academic organization. “Ideas don’t happen on their own,” says Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a tea party advocacy group heavily funded by the Kochs (see April 14, 2009). “Throughout history, ideas need patrons.” FreedomWorks is one of many citizen activism groups founded and/or funded by the Kochs, usually masquerading as “grassroots” organizations started by “ordinary citizens” (see 1984 and After, 1997, and Late 2004).
Disrupting the Obama Administration - Since well before the 2008 presidential election, the Koch brothers have been involved in full-throated efforts to derail any policies or initiatives that would be launched by a Democratic president. In January 2008, Charles Koch wrote in the industry newsletter that America was on the verge of “the greatest loss of liberty and prosperity since the 1930s.” The Kochs have used their “astroturf” advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to great effect against the Obama administration, launching its efforts even before the November 2008 election (see October 2008 and January 2009 and After). Conservative activist Grover Norquist says that AFP’s August 2009 anti-health care rallies were instrumental in undermining Obama’s policy initiatives. Norquist says the rallies “discouraged deal-makers,” Republicans who otherwise might have considered cooperating with Obama and Congressional Democrats, and affected corporate donors to Washington lobbyists, steering millions into the hands of Republican lobbyists. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
The Guardian reports that American tea party organizations are working with British anti-tax groups, teaching the British to emulate their mass-protest techniques. The Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), a British organization that stands for tax cuts and decreased government spending, is being advised by FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010 and September 12, 2010), an American lobbying organization that helped found and organize the tea party movement. Today a group of libertarian tea party leaders take part in a London conference with their British and European counterparts, calling their activities “an insurgent campaign” against the US government’s taxation and spending policies. British groups believe they can import tea party tactics to help expand their influence. “You could say our time has come,” says TPA founder Matthew Elliott, whose group has swelled to some 55,000 members. “Take the strikes on the London underground this week and how much they annoyed and inconvenienced people. Couldn’t we get 1,000 people to protest that? We need to learn from our European colleagues and the tea party movement in the US.… It will be fascinating to see whether it will transfer to the UK. Will there be the same sort of uprising?” FreedomWorks consultant Terry Kibbe says she wants to help mobilize British “grassroots” activists in much the same way her organization did in the US, by working through established right-wing lobbying groups to produce campaign materials, train community organizers, and pay for television advertisements. “We have been working to identify groups in Europe that would be amenable to becoming more activist-based, thinktanks that could start activist wings,” she says. “We have worked with the Taxpayers’ Alliance, in Austria and in Italy, and we want to do more.” Another lobbying group heavily involved in the tea party movement, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011), is also involved in the outreach effort. AFP leader Tim Phillips says: “In the US there is a growing consciousness of the effect of government spending and debt on their own prosperity. It strikes me that many Britons are coming to the same conclusion.” Other right-wing organizations that have funded the London conference include the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation. Representatives from Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco, along with a British think tank that opposes climate change research, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, take part in the conference. “We need to reach out to a broader audience,” says Barbara Kohn, secretary general of the Hayek Institute in Vienna, one of Europe’s leading low tax campaigners that has also worked with FreedomWorks. “We need to come from various angles. We have all seen what our friends in the tea party movement, and their march, have achieved.” (Booth 9/9/2010)
Research from the media analysis firm Borrell Associates and other sources shows that spending for the 2010 midterm elections will outstrip the record-breaking spending of the 2008 elections, which centered around a presidential contest. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations. It is unprecedented for midterm elections to involve more spending than presidential-year elections. Kip Cassino, vice president of research at Borrell Associates, says the Citizens United decision is directly responsible for the massive upswing in spending. “Unlike a lot of industries in the United States right now, which are seeing some downturns, political spending is absolutely a growth industry,” Cassino says. Corporate money is behind the surge, accounting for what he says is at least a 10 percent jump in advertising. Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, says: “The unwritten charter of these [anonymously funded political] groups is to really be disruptive and try to go in there and turn a race on its head—or put a candidate on the defense. And by that nature, most of those ads that they’re gonna run this fall are gonna be negative ads.” Labor unions account for some of the surge in spending, but most of it comes from corporate donors, from conservative organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce (see September 20, 2010, September 30, 2010, and October 2010), Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, November 2009, and July 3-4, 2010), and American Crossroads, a nonprofit political group headed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove (see September 20, 2010, February 21, 2012, Late March 2012, and Late May 2012). Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says, “While each of our campaigns has the resources they need to be competitive, we now face shadow groups putting their thumbs on the scale with undisclosed, unlimited, and unregulated donations.” However, national groups are not all of the important players in the spending surge. Tracey says: “We have a lot of little individual state-type groups that are starting to show up in some of the bigger races. And I think they’re going to play a much larger role in the fall.” One group cited in the research is a Nevada-based group called Americans for New Leadership, which has targeted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for defeat in a barrage of advertisements aired recently throughout the state. The group says it has spent $300,000 in ads attacking Reid and is prepared to spend more, but has not disclosed from whom that money comes. Senate and House races are seeing more involvement by heavily-funded groups placing ads in local markets for Republican candidates, or attacking Democrats, particularly from AFP, which has already spent some $1.5 million on House races. Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen says: “In 2004 and 2006, literally 100 percent of the groups were fully complying with the disclosure laws. Today, most groups do not disclose where they’re getting their money from.” The New York Times reports, “The situation raises the possibility that a relatively small cadre of deep-pocketed donors, unknown to the general public, is shaping the battle for Congress in the early going.” Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics observes: “Corporate interests are buying the elections? Oh no, it’s much worse than that. We don’t know who’s buying the election.” (Luo 9/13/2010; Overby 9/16/2010; Somanader 9/17/2010)
American Crossroads, a political advocacy group backed by former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove, is spending millions on attack advertisements targeting Democrats for the 2010 midterm elections. Ninety-one percent of the funding for American Crossroads comes from three right-wing billionaires. In August, American Crossroads raised $2,639,052. $2.4 million of that, or 91 percent of that total, comes from Trevor Rees-Jones, Robert Rowling, and Carl Linder. Rees-Jones is president of Chief Oil and Gas, a Dallas-based firm; he contributed $1 million in August to go with the $1 million he contributed earlier in the year. Rowling is CEO of TRT Holdings; like Rees-Jones, he gave $1 million in August to go with a previous $1 million contribution. Linder owns American Financial Group (AFG), a Cincinnati-based firm. Linder used to own Chiquita, the fruit corporation, and owns a partial stake in the Cincinnati Reds. AFG donated $400,000 in August. In July, billionaire Jerry Perenchio, who in 2008 chaired presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ)‘s national finance committee, gave $1 million to American Crossroads. American Crossroads has a partner group, American Crossroads GPS (for Grassroots Political Strategies), that is organized under a section of the tax code that does not require disclosure of donors. The group is raising millions of dollars, but refuses to identify the donors. The two groups were organized earlier in the year by Rove and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie. Another political advocacy group, American Action Network, shares a downtown Washington office with the Crossroads group; both are working alongside other right-wing advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the US Chamber of Commerce. (Elliott 9/20/2010; Vogel 9/20/2010)
Oil billionaire and conservative activist David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 24, 2010) attends the 112th Congress’s swearing-in ceremony, accompanied by Tim Phillips, the head of the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009) and a number of current and former Koch Industries lobbyists, including Nancy Pfotenhauer. The event marks the ascendance of Republicans to the majority of the House, and the selection of John Boehner (R-OH) as speaker of the House. After the ceremony, Koch asks Frank Guinta (R-NH), a freshman Republican and “tea party” member elected in part by lavish AFP spending on his behalf, if he will attend a party that Koch is throwing for Republican Congressional members. Guinta affirms that he will attend. Lee Fang, a reporter for Think Progress who observes the Koch-Guinta conversation, speaks to Koch after the two conclude their discussion. Fang identifies himself as a Think Progress reporter and asks Koch what he expects from the Boehner-led Congress; Koch replies, “Well, cut the hell out of spending, balance the budget, reduce regulations, and, uh, support business.” Phillips immediately intervenes, identifying Fang to Koch as “a good blogger on the left, we’re glad to have him—” but Fang continues interviewing Koch. During the relatively brief interview, Phillips repeatedly attempts to push Fang’s cameraman Scott Keyes away from Koch, and shouts into Keyes’s camera, in an apparent attempt to disrupt the interview. However, Koch is cooperative with being interviewed. Koch is apparently proud of the work being done by AFP and says, “We’re going to do more too in the next couple of years.” Fang asks Koch if he is proud of the tea party movement, and Koch replies: “Yeah. There are some extremists there, but the rank and file are just normal people like us. And I admire them. It’s probably the best grassroots uprising since 1776 in my opinion.” Koch is hesitant to answer questions about “climate change,” agreeing only that “[c]limate does fluctuate,” but refusing to answer questions about the effect of carbon pollution on the climate. Instead, he says that any attempts to regulate carbon emissions will “really damage the economy.” Fang concludes by asking about the Citizens United decision that allows unlimited corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). According to Fang, Koch looks uncomfortable discussing the subject and is quite reticent. Koch refuses to answer when Fang asks him about a recent meeting he sponsored with former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck “and several other conservatives” (see June 26-28, 2010). While Phillips continues to interrupt and chide Fang for asking about the Citizens United decision, Koch refuses to answer Fang’s question, “Could you tell the public what you discussed at that meeting?” (Fang 1/5/2011; Fang 1/6/2011; Fang 1/7/2011; Fang 1/10/2011)
A group of tea party-affiliated organizations, including the lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), the Tea Party Patriots, the Heritage Foundation, the Buckeye Foundation, American Majority, and the far-right, extremst John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), hosts a two-day event called the “We the People Convention.” The event is designed to help raise money and awareness for Republican political candidates, in part through the auspices of the Ohio Citizens PAC. Some 88 area tea party groups in the Ohio Liberty Council are the local sponsors; the attendance is estimated at around 300 people. According to the organization’s Web site, “The purpose of the convention is to provide educational programs that will help all citizens participate in self governance as provided by the US and Ohio Constitutions by participating in the governance of their township, village, municipality, state, and country.” The convention includes “breakout sessions” that give information on “start[ing] your own Patriot group in your home town, or strengthen[ing] your existing group.” According to a report by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights’s Devin Burghart, the workshops advocate the dismantling of public education, Social Security, and Medicaid; the banning of labor unions; and voter suppression efforts against non-white voters. Burghart writes, “A hard look at this conference provides an invaluable window on the way the tea party movement works against even the most minimal efforts to promote the common good.” Many of the workshop presenters engage in what Burghart calls overtly racist jargon, including accusations that blacks who receive government assistance “have no souls” and President Obama is “not American.” Global warming is a fraud perpetuated by socialists to obtain control over private enterprise, one workshop asserts, with global warming advocates being compared to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Another hosted by John McManus of the JBS claims that the Federal Reserve system is a Communist front group, and calls for a return to a gold- and silver-based monetary system. McManus also leads workshops that claim American Democrats are colluding with American neoconservatives to build a “one-world government,” a “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) that would oppress whites and institute “global socialism.” Matt Spaulding of the Heritage Foundation tells listeners that they are the current equivalent of the Revolutionary War-era patriots, and the enemies of America are the “elites” and “progressive liberals” who intend to subvert American democracy. Progressive liberalism, Spaulding says, is an outgrowth of German Nazism. He cites what he calls “Obamacare,” the 2009 health care legislation bitterly opposed by many tea party groups, as an example of the Obama administration’s drive to “socialize” America and undermine constitutional law. At the welcoming ceremony, tea party spokesman Tom Zawistowski, the incoming president of the Ohio Liberty Council, tells the audience that the Obama administration is a “professional army” of socialists intent on overthrowing the Constitution. Zawistowski tells the assemblage that only they, the heirs and successors to American Revolutionary War figures such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, can stop Obama and the “liberal agenda” from destroying America as it currently exists. Vendors sell anti-Obama literature and bumper stickers, along with information on how to purchase weapons engraved with “We the People Convention” and selected phrases from the US Constitution. “[W]e do not hate Obama because he is black,” he says, “we hate him because he is a socialist, fascist, and not American.” While Zawistowski claims that tea parties have no affiliation with Republican politicians, Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots hosts a luncheon where she cautions listeners to avoid voting for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and instead consider voting for another Republican, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN). (We the People Convention 7/2011; Burghart 9/16/2011)
Liberal columnist Joan Walsh uses a recent op-ed by authors and researchers David Campbell and Robert Putnam (see August 16, 2011) to ask why the media portrays the “tea party” movement as a powerful new force of non-partisan advocates of small government, when research shows that the movement is, as Walsh and others have long argued, largely formed of right-wing social conservatives. Walsh writes: “It’s great to have data, but this is something a lot of us believed all along—the tea party was the Republican base dressed up in silly costumes. Why was the media so quick to declare them a vital new force in politics?” Walsh points to the early involvement of the billionaire Koch brothers (see July 3-4, 2010 and August 30, 2010), lobbying groups such as FreedomWorks (see April 8, 2009 and April 14, 2009) and Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), and Fox News, whom she says did early and “energetic publicity for… tea party rallies” (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 18, 2009, Early November 2009, and May 22, 2011). Former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck helped start one of the earliest nationwide “tea party” organizations, the “9-12 movement” (see March 13, 2009 and After). The first “tea party” rally Walsh attended, in San Francisco in April 2009, was sponsored by right-wing talk radio station KSFO and featured speakers such as Melanie Morgan, who, Walsh recalls, “whipped the crowd into an anti-government frenzy that day.” Many “birthers”—people who insist that President Obama is not the legitimate president because he is not an American citizen—were on hand. Race is a big issue for many “tea party” members, Walsh writes: while Obama’s race is a bone of contention for many “tea partiers,” “it’s worth noting that these are the same people who’ve been fighting the Democratic Party since the days of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the beginning of the War on Poverty, almost 50 years ago. They associate those long overdue social reforms with giving folks, mainly black people, something they don’t deserve. I sometimes think just calling them racist against our black president obscures the depths of their hatred for Democrats, period.” (Walsh 8/17/2011) Walsh is echoing similar claims made by Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum almost a year ago (see September 2010).
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain (R-GA), who is battling allegations that he sexually harassed two former employees, is further shaken by reports that his campaign may have accepted illegal corporate donations. The apparently-defunct corporation, Prosperity USA, was run by Wisconsin political operatives Mark Block and Linda Hansen, who now serve as Cain’s chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, respectively. The corporation, which incorporated itself as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization under federal tax law, helped get Cain’s campaign up and running by paying for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, including computers, chartered flights, and travel to several states. Such payouts are possible violations of federal tax and campaign law. According to documents obtained by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Prosperity USA claims it was owed about $40,000 by the Cain campaign for a variety of items in February and March. It is unclear whether the Cain campaign has reimbursed Prosperity USA. Cain began taking donations for his presidential bid on January 1, 2011, but records indicate Prosperity USA may have been spending money on behalf of him well before that date. The records have been verified as authentic by sources close to Prosperity USA. Cain’s federal election filings make no mention of monies owed to Prosperity USA, and the figures in the documents do not match payments made by the Cain Campaign. Other payouts include a $100,000 fee to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a conservative black organization; Cain spoke at the organization’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner in mid-January, an event hosted by controversial conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. CORE is heavily involved in tea party events. Apparently Cain was not paid for the appearance, inasmuch as his personal financial disclosure forms do not show any honorariums for speeches. (Bice 10/30/2011; USA 10/31/2011 )
Apparent Violations of Tax, Campaign Law - Election law experts say the transactions raise many questions about Priorities USA and its connection to the Cain campaign. A Washington, DC, lawyer who advises many Republican candidates and conservative groups on campaign issues, and refuses to be publicly identified, says, “If the records accurately reflect what occurred, this is way out of bounds.” She says it is a violation of tax law for Prosperity USA to advance money to the Cain campaign for the items invoiced, and the expenditures also seem to violate federal campaign regulations. “I just don’t see how they can justify this,” she says. “It’s a total mess.” Wisconsin campaign attorney Michael Maistelman, a Democrat who has worked for candidates from both parties, agrees, saying, “The number of questionable and possibly illegal transactions conducted on behalf of Herman Cain is staggering.” Think Progress legal expert Ian Millhiser writes that “if Prosperity USA effectively donated money to the Cain campaign by fronting money to them and agreeing not to be paid back, that is a violation of federal election law,” even if the Cain campaign eventually pays the money back. Block and Hansen have refused to comment on the issue. In 1997, Block, then advising the campaign of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox, settled allegations of election-law violations by agreeing to pay a $15,000 fine and to stay out of Wisconsin politics for three years. (Bice 10/30/2011; Millhiser 10/31/2011) Election lawyer Lawrence H. Norton, who formerly served as a general counsel for the Federal Election Commission (FEC), later says, “If they are supporting his campaign, whether directly or indirectly, they are violating the law.” (Confessore 11/3/2011)
Connections to Koch-Funded Political Organization - In recent years, Block has run the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), a nonprofit conservative lobbying and political action group co-founded by the conservative Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011). AFP played a key role in organizing the tea party movement. Block met Cain through AFP, and encouraged him to run for president. Block has incorporated a number of offshoot organizations and corporations from AFP, most of which bore the word “prosperity” in their names. AFP officials insist that Block’s organizations are legally separate from theirs. Documents show that when Block left AFP at the beginning of 2011, he left behind tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices.
History of Involvement with Cain Campaign - Block’s largest group was the now-defunct Wisconsin Prosperity Network (WPN), envisioned as an umbrella organization that would spend over $6 million a year underwriting other conservative political organizations. Hansen was the group’s executive director. WPN was also set up as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Under the law, neither WPN nor Prosperity USA can have direct political involvement with any candidate or candidate organization. Sources familiar with the situation say the two organizations were closely linked, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wisconsin conservatives. One supporter, who still advocates for Cain and thusly refuses to have his name publicly disclosed, says he and many others are very upset with the groups for failing to use the money they raised for their intended purposes. The supporter names Hansen as being particularly responsible for the groups’ money usage. By February 2011, both groups were deeply in debt, with WPN showing a net loss of $62,000 and Prosperity USA showing net losses of $110,000. Prosperity USA’s biggest debt was an almost-$40,000 debit to “FOH,” which records show means “Friends of Herman Cain,” the name of Cain’s presidential operation. The debt includes almost $15,000 for what is called an “Atlanta invoice”; $17,000 for chartered flight service; $5,000 for travel and meetings in Iowa, Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston, and Louisiana; and $3,700 for iPads purchased for the Cain campaign. Other small-ticket items for travel and expenses by Block are listed as “not billed to FOH but due from them.” Other expenses include a September 2010 bill for $5,000 for costs incurred by Cain’s speech to the conservative Right Nation rally in Chicago, which records show Cain attended at the request of AFP; the Cain campaign later used a segment from that speech in a campaign ad. Prosperity USA also paid for a trip by Block to Washington, DC, to meet with billionaire oil magnate and conservative financier David Koch. Singer Krista Branch, who recorded “I Am America,” the unofficial anthem of the tea party movement, was supposed to be paid $3,000 by Prosperity USA; Cain has since adopted the song as his campaign theme. Branch’s husband, Michael, is a Cain campaign and fundraising consultant. The records also show $150,000 in loans from individuals who are not identified. Sources say Hansen paid much of that loan money to CORE earlier in the year. Michael Dean, the attorney for both Prosperity USA and WPN, resigned his position with WPN in the summer of 2011, and contacted the IRS about the organization’s tax-exempt status. And WPN is a listed litigant in a case pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
'Outside Counsel' Will Review Allegations - The Cain campaign will respond by saying that an “outside” lawyer will review the allegations. “As with any suggestions of this type, we have asked outside counsel to investigate the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s suggestions and may comment, if appropriate, when that review is completed,” says campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon. Gordon refuses to identify the “outside counsel,” or give a time frame as to when the review will be complete. (Bice 10/30/2011; Confessore 11/3/2011)
The conservative news outlet Sunshine State News notes that the conservative lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011) is paying tea party leaders to serve as “field coordinators” in Florida in preparation for the upcoming Republican presidential primary. Reportedly, AFP is paying the tea party leaders $30,000 each to help increase AFP’s membership, and $2 for every new AFP member the tea party volunteers sign up at Florida polling stations on Election Day. According to an email from the West Orlando Tea Party organizers: “Americans for Prosperity has offered many local tea party groups an opportunity to collect a few dollar$ for our cause and it revolves around the January 31st primary. Anyone who volunteers from our group will net our WOTP group $2 for every person they ‘sign up’ for AFP which involves getting the name, address, and email of local voters at local polling stations that day. They will provide us with T-shirts, coffee mugs, and other handouts to recruit like-minded conservatives.” AFP’s Florida director Slade O’Brien says, “It’s an opportunity for tea parties to raise dollars for their organizations by helping AFP with an awareness and membership drive on Tuesday.” But critics say AFP is using the same tactics conservatives have accused the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) of using—“buying foot soldiers for election work.” Former AFP state director Apryl Marie Fogel says: “It’s reprehensible. Slade is doing things we would never have considered doing.… Incentivizing people with money is no different than what ACORN or other groups are doing.… This is the opposite of what AFP stands for.” AFP has already hired 10 coordinators, with plans to hire 10 more in the coming days. One coordinator in the Tampa area, Karen Jaroch, is a founding member of the Tampa 9/12 Project chapter (see March 13, 2009 and After), and she says that AFP’s involvement “might open some doors” to building a stronger movement. O’Brien denies that AFP is working on behalf of any particular Republican candidate, and both O’Brien and Jaroch deny that AFP is working on behalf of the Newt Gingrich (R-GA) campaign. “I don’t know any field coordinators for Newt,” Jaroch says. “One favors Mitt Romney and one supports Rick Santorum. I’m undecided.” The liberal news outlet Mother Jones notes that O’Brien is a veteran political consultant whose former firm, Florida Strategies Group, “specialized in Astroturf campaigns and ‘grass-tops lobbying.’” O’Brien worked for AFP’s predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, in the 1990s. Mother Jones also speculates that the AFP drive is part of a Koch Brothers effort to construct a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters called “Themis” (see April 2010 and After). (Ward 1/30/2012; Mencimer 1/30/2012)
Billionaire oil magnate David Koch, who with his brother Charles Koch has become one of the driving financial forces behind the US conservative political movement (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011), gives an interview to the Palm Beach Post’s Stacey Singer. Koch, who rarely gives interviews, chose to meet with Singer because of her background as a health and science writer, according to Koch spokesperson Cristyne Nicholas. The interview focuses in part on the cancer research underway at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, where Koch is being treated for prostate cancer. However, the interview also touches on the Koch brothers’ political participation. Singer begins her report of the interview by informing her readers of the media portrayal of the “secretive” brothers and their construction of what she calls “a clandestinely built political machine that disdains government regulation and taxes, obfuscates the science on global warming, and now pulls the strings of decision-makers at every level, from Florida Tea Party members to Wisconsin state senators—even US Supreme Court justices.” She writes that Koch seems “baffled” by that perception, saying: “They make me sound like a bully. Do I look like a bully?” According to Singer, Koch wants to improve his media image. The Koch brothers have given, Singer reports, “many millions to far-right organizations dedicated to spreading an Ayn Rand-infused ideology, one in which a benevolent business class flourishes, unfettered by taxes and regulations. Some have called it free-market fundamentalism.” Nicholas says Koch wants to be remembered more for his philanthropy than his political involvement. “That’s what his legacy will hopefully be: finding a cure for cancer,” she writes. “That is his goal in life right now and it far exceeds any political views he has. Which are strong.” Koch is proud of his political activism, admitting without restraint his organizations’ involvement in protecting Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) from being recalled. “We’re helping him, as we should. We’ve gotten pretty good at this over the years,” he says. “We’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.” The “we” in his statement is primarily Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), the “astroturf” lobbying and advocacy organization that is spending some $700,000 on a single advertisement buy in Wisconsin on Walker’s behalf, an ad that makes statements many union members and public workers say is filled with false and misleading praise for Walker’s policies. In a now-famous prank phone call, a blogger posing as Koch got Walker to say that his goal was to “crush” Wisconsin’s unions, a goal Koch may share, though he is more circumspect in his language. “What Scott Walker is doing with the public unions in Wisconsin is critically important,” Koch says after an expansive dinner featuring salmon and white wine. “He’s an impressive guy and he’s very courageous. If the unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” Nicholas later “clarifies” Koch’s remarks, saying: “Koch companies support voluntary associations, and where they so choose, we recognize employees’ rights to be represented and bargain collectively. We think the best workplace relationships are fostered when the employer works directly with its employees. It is a mischaracterization of our principles to say this means we oppose unions or want to dismantle all unions.” Singer writes that Koch’s usage of the term “union power” seems as biting as one might have said “Bolshevik” in an earlier time—“a new red scare for a new century,” she writes. Besides funding such organizations as AFP, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council (where, Singer writes, “copycat conservative legislation is passed among conservative state politicos”), and others, the Koch brothers are one of the most powerful and influential financial forces behind the “tea party” movement, largely through AFP. Singer conducts the interview on February 11; the Palm Beach Post publishes the report based on the interview on February 20. (Singer 2/20/2012; Nichols 2/20/2012) Koch’s public admission of support for Walker could constitute a violation of the laws administering such “nonprofit” organizations as AFP, according to one journalist (see February 20, 2012).
Billionaire hedge fund investor Kenneth Griffin tells a Chicago reporter that he does not believe the extraordinarily wealthy wield enough political influence in America, and says that they must step up to stop America’s “drift” towards Soviet-style “socialism.” Griffin, alone and in conjunction with his wife Anne, has given $150,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supports Mitt Romney (see June 23, 2011). He has also given over $560,000 to the Republican Governors Association and $300,000 to American Crossroads, the advocacy organization founded by Republican strategists Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove. The Griffins have been heavy Republican donors in previous election cycles, and have given around $1.5 million to Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), the “astroturf” lobbying and advocacy organization founded and sponsored by the billionaire oil magnates Charles and David Koch. Of his contributions to AFP, he explains: “Charles and David Koch are huge advocates for free markets (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011). I have a tremendous respect for their intellectual and financial commitment to embracing a set of economic policies that will give us global competitiveness.… I share their fundamental belief that economic freedom is core to the ethos of our country. It’s the idea that any person can pursue their dreams, whether it’s starting a business or who they choose to work for.” Asked, “Do you think the ultrawealthy have an inordinate or inappropriate amount of influence on the political process?” Griffith replies: “I think they actually have an insufficient influence. Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet. And so I hope that other individuals who have really enjoyed growing up in a country that believes in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and economic freedom is part of the pursuit of happiness—[I hope they realize] they have a duty now to step up and protect that.… At this moment in time, these values are under attack. This belief that a larger government is what creates prosperity, that a larger government is what creates good [is wrong]. We’ve seen that experiment. The Soviet Union collapsed. China has run away from its state-controlled system over the last 20 years and has pulled more people up from poverty by doing so than we’ve ever seen in the history of humanity. Why the US is drifting toward a direction that has been the failed of experiment of the last century, I don’t understand. I don’t understand.” Asked if he believes he should continue to be allowed to make unlimited donations on behalf of candidates (see January 21, 2010), he answers: “In my opinion, absolutely. Absolutely. The rules that encourage transparency around that are really important.… My public policy hat says transparency is valuable. On the flip side, this is a very sad moment in my lifetime. This is the first time class warfare has really been embraced as a political tool. Because we are looking at an administration that has embraced class warfare as being politically expedient, I do worry about the publicity that comes with being willing to both with my dollars and, more importantly, with my voice to stand for what I believe in (see July 20, 2011).… I live in financial services, and every bank in the United States is really under the thumb of the government in a way it’s never been before. And that’s really worrisome to me, as someone who’s willing to say, ‘Wait, we need to step back and try to push government outside the realm of every dimension of our lives.’” (Dorner 3/10/2012; Harris 3/11/2012)
The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP), a nonpartisan political analysis group working out of Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, finds that negative political advertising has become the mainstay of political broadcast advertising in the 2012 presidential campaign. Only about 8 percent of ads in the 2008 presidential campaign could be considered negative, the WMP writes, but in 2012, 70 percent of ads are negative. (The WMP defines negative as “mentioning an opponent.”) Erika Franklin Fowler, the WMP’s co-director, says: “One reason the campaign has been so negative is the skyrocketing involvement of interest groups, who have increased their activity by 1,100 percent over four years ago. But we cannot attribute the negativity solely to outside groups. Even the candidates’ own campaigns have taken a dramatic negative turn.” Interest-group advertising, i.e. ads financed by “independent” third-party organizations that support one candidate or another, were 75 percent positive in 2008, but only 14 percent positive in 2012. In 2008, ads financed directly by candidate campaigns were 9 percent negative, but this year are 53 percent negative.
Huge Spike in Third-Party Advertising from 2008 - Almost two-thirds of the ads aired in 2012 are paid for by “third party” organizations such as super PACs and “nonprofit” groups. Super PACs alone have financed 60 percent of the ads during this cycle; that figure for 2008 was 8 percent. The WMP writes: “An estimated $112M [million] has been spent to date on 207,000 ads compared to $190M spent on just under 300,000 ads in 2008. Much of this decline in spending and ad volume is due to the lack of a nomination contest on the Democratic side this year.” The project refers to the Republican presidential primary, which is featuring massive spending on behalf of candidates by third-party organizations. “Such levels of outside group involvement in a presidential primary campaign are unprecedented,” according to co-director Travis Ridout. “This is truly historic. To see 60 percent of all ads in the race to-date sponsored by non-candidates is eye-popping.” One of the most prominent organizations, the nonprofit Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012), has already aired some 17,000 ads, mostly attacking President Obama. Those ads are joined by commercials paid for by another conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009), which has aired some 7,000 ads. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have combined to air some 20,342 ads. WMP data shows that 33,420 anti-Obama, pro-Republican spots have aired as opposed to 25,516 anti-Republican, pro-Obama ads.
Most Ads Paid for by Anonymous Donations - Unlike the majority of the ads that aired in the primary election, most of the ads airing for the general election have “come from groups that do not need to disclose their donors,” according to WMP co-founder Michael M. Franz. “That’s a lot of money and airtime backed by undisclosed sources.” Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Jon Huntsman (R-UT), Mitt Romney (R-MA), and Rick Santorum (R-PA) were very reliant on super PAC advertising, with Ron Paul (R-TX) less so. About 20 percent of ads aired on Obama’s behalf have come from his super PAC, Priorities USA Action, though the DNC has aired a number of ads on behalf of Obama. Priorities USA Action is answering negative ads from Crossroads GPS with its own advertising, mainly in “battleground” states such as Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada. Ridout says: “Early general election spending reveals that both parties are focused on markets in the same key battleground states. The past couple of weeks, Obama and his super PAC have been on the air in a few more markets than Crossroads GPS, but both sides have focused their advertising in markets in Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio.” Groups such as the conservative Club for Growth, the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), and AFP are airing ads in Senate races in Florida, Indiana, and Nebraska. And some $6 million in advertising has flooded Wisconsin and its gubernatorial recall election involving Governor Scott Walker (R-WI). Walker and the super PAC supporting him, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC (an arm of the Republican Governors’ Association), have outspent their Democratic opponents; of the 17,000 ads aired in Wisconsin about the recall election, 10,000 have either been pro-Walker or negative ads attacking the recall and Walker’s challengers. Franz says: “Wisconsinites have been inundated with advertising surrounding the gubernatorial recall election. Walker and his allies hold a substantial advantage to date in the air war in all markets except Madison, and the incumbent governor’s ads have been more positive than his competitors’ ads.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that the 2010 Citizens United decision is largely responsible for the increased spending by third-party groups (see January 21, 2010). (Fowler 5/2/2012; Strasser 5/3/2012)
The New York Times reports that wealthy liberal donors, after months of relative inactivity, are gearing up to make large donations on behalf of Democratic candidates. But unlike their Republican counterparts, these donors are not going to give millions to super PACs. Instead, the Times reports, they will give most of their money to organizations focused on grassroots organizing, voter registration, and “get out the vote,” or GOTV, efforts. The Times reports, “The departure from the conservatives’ approach, which helped Republicans wrest control of the House in 2010, partly reflects liberal donors’ objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), which paved the way for super PACs and unbridled campaign spending.” Also, donors and strategists do not believe they can go head-to-head with wealthy Republican donors who are giving to groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Instead, they say they feel Democrats can press an advantage in grassroots organizing. Rob Stein of the Democracy Alliance, a group of liberal donors, says that while super PACs “are critically important,” local efforts and social-media outreach “can have an enormous impact in battleground states in 2012.” Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros (see January - November 2004) will give $1 million to America Votes, an organization that coordinates political actions for environmental, abortion rights, and civil rights groups, and another $1 million to American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC that focuses on election research. Soros has not yet given significantly during the 2012 cycle. A Soros spokesperson, Michael Vachon, says: “George Soros believes the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to special interests’ paying for political ads. There is no way those concerned with the public interest can compete with them. Soros has always focused his political giving on grass-roots organizing and holding conservatives accountable for the flawed policies they promote. His support of these groups is consistent with those views.” President Obama’s reelection campaign is in the process of unleashing a $25 million ad campaign against the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney (R-MA), directed and financed by the campaign itself. Romney and other Republicans have relied more heavily on “independent” spending by American Crossroads, AFP, and other “third party” groups. An Obama-aligned super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has raised relatively little money in comparison to its Republican counterparts, though it has been active in some battleground states (see May 2, 2012). Obama’s opposition to super PACs and his reluctance to have his campaign rely on their efforts (see January 18, 2012) has slowed super PAC fundraising efforts on his behalf, though he has recently given his approval for the group to operate at maximum capacity (see February 6, 2012). David Brock, the founder of American Bridge 21st Century and the liberal watchdog organization Media Matters for America, says, “The idea that we’re going to engage in an arms race on advertising with the Republicans is not appealing to many liberal donors.” While Priorities USA and two other groups founded to help Democrats in Congress remain on the list of organizations that the Democracy Alliance recommends to its members, Robert McKay, the chairman of the group and a board member of Priorities USA, says that much of the money expected to be spent this year—up to $100 million—by the group’s donors will go to organizing and research, and far less to television advertising. “There is a bias towards funding infrastructure as it relates to the elections,” McKay says. “That means get-out-the-vote efforts” aimed at minority voters, women, and younger voters. Organizations involved in Democracy Alliance include Catalist, a voter database organization; ProgressNow, which organizes Internet-based groups in different states; and the newly created Latino Engagement Fund, an organization that works to organize Latino voting on behalf of Democrats. Groups outside Democracy Alliance will also be involved, particularly labor unions and advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club. San Francisco philanthropist Steve Phillips, who intends to spend some $10 million on efforts to increase turnout among Latino voters, says: “You can dump 10 or 20 million in TV ads in Ohio and try to reach the persuadable swing voters there, or you can up voter turnout among Latinos in Colorado and Arizona and win that way. It’s much cheaper.” (Confessore 5/7/2012)
Politico reporters Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti report on the difficulty of getting solid information about the donors being organized by the billionaire Koch brothers. Oil magnates Charles and David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011) intend to raise at least $400 million to defeat President Obama in the 2012 election (see Late May 2012), and to ensure victory for Republicans in state and local races around the nation (see February 21, 2012). Vogel and Parti call the Koch political operation “its own political party,” almost, even going so far as to hold its own semi-annual conventions, including one scheduled for late June in San Diego. That convention will bring together dozens of millionaire and billionaire conservatives, who will write big checks for the Koch efforts. Additionally, the Kochs will unveil their new voter database, Themis (see April 2010 and After), which they expect will help in targeting potential Republican voters around the country. Themis played a big part in a recent successful effort to stop Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) from being recalled, as did huge amounts of Koch-organized donations on behalf of Walker. Three of the prime figures in the Koch efforts are convention “emcee” Kevin Gentry and political operatives Marc Short and Tim Phillips (see May 29, 2009); the operation is orchestrated primarily by Koch advisor and operative Richard Fink. Additionally, the Koch brothers intend to take over the Cato Institute think tank (see February 29, 2012) and make it more politically active. Minnesota television station owner Stanley Hubbard, a longtime Koch supporter, says: “They ask for support—and they get it because we all love our country and we have a different vision than do the liberals. I’ve gotten friends to be involved, and I think others have, too, so I would guess, yes, that’s expanding.” Vogel and Parti expand on how secretive the Koch network (which they call “Koch World”) actually is. They are unable to find out where the San Diego convention is to be held, though they did determine that it is scheduled to take place over the weekend of June 23. A Republican who has worked with Koch-backed groups says: “The Koch groups are very complex in the way they do things. They’re difficult to penetrate from the outside, which is smart. You often need a Sherpa.” The conventions are heavily patrolled by hired security guards, who at one recent convention threw out a Politico reporter under threat of arrest. Participants are required not to discuss the convention with outsiders, including making posts on Facebook or Web blogs. (The winter 2011 convention in Rancho Mirage, California, leaked to the press, sparking what Politico calls “raucous protests” outside the exclusive resort hosting the conference.) According to Vogel and Parti, Phillips runs the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004 and November 2009). Short oversees the spending of Koch network monies by other approved groups, some of which air television ads attacking Democrats. Gentry raises money for the Koch network. Gentry often uses urgent and even apocalyptic rhetoric in his fundraising appeals, warning potential donors of “dangerous and imminent threats” to American society and comparing the Koch conventions to the Continental Congress of 1776. One recent email lauded efforts by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to help the Koch brothers’ fundraising. Gentry also spearheads the fundraising efforts for an informal network of conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, AFP, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Some conservatives are uncomfortable with the Koch brothers’ attempts to gain dominance in conservative party politics. “Koch has been angling for the last three or four years to consolidate more of the conservative movement within their network,” says one conservative operative. “That’s why they do these seminars—to try to consolidate more big donors’ money and direct it into their projects.” The operative admits that the Koch fundraising efforts are very effective, saying, “Some of the donors believe giving to one source makes it easier for them instead of having to give to a dozen different places, and others just want to come out to hang with the billionaire brothers and be part of a very elite universe.” Koch conventions regularly feature prominent conservatives like Thomas and fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Texas Governor Rick Perry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Virginia Governor Bob McConnell, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and right-wing radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. While federal documents track some $120 million in donations from recent Koch summit donors, most of the money raised and spent goes untracked, instead being hidden away by “nonprofit” groups that purport to be non-political social advocacy groups. Gentry has assured donors, “There is anonymity that we can protect.” (Vogel and Parti 6/15/2012)
Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, one of the world’s 15 richest people, is on course to contribute at least $71 million to efforts to unseat President Obama in the November presidential elections and elect Republicans to national and state office (see February 21, 2012). Adelson’s contributions are cloaked in secrecy, as much of his contributions go to “nonprofit” political organizations that under the law do not have to disclose their donors. Adelson and his wife Miriam have already contributed $10 million to a “super PAC” backing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (see June 13, 2012), and have either given or pledged to give up to $35 million to other organizations, including Crossroads GPS, a “nonprofit” organization led by former George W. Bush advisor and longtime Adelson friend Karl Rove, the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009), and another organization linked to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Adelson is a strong supporter of Israel’s far-right government and a staunch opponent of US labor unions. Adelson has told friends that he may give up to $100 million in efforts to unseat Obama and elect Republicans in state races; indications are that he may give much, much more. Some of Adelson’s donations may go to another Koch-funded organization, the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, which in 2010 was used to funnel tens of millions of dollars to other conservative organizations (see October 12, 2010). The Young Guns Network is a nonprofit group set up by Cantor, and has received $5 million from Adelson (see June 10, 2012). So has the “super PAC” the Congressional Leadership Fund, a group linked to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Adelson’s Las Vegas casino The Sands is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Justice Department for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which exists to prevent bribery of foreign business officials. The Sands denies any wrongdoing. Adelson previously backed Romney’s opponent Newt Gingrich (R-GA), but as Gingrich’s hopes for the presidential nomination faded, Adelson indicated that he would shift his support to Romney. Adelson has told GOP colleagues he intends to make most of his contributions to nonprofits like Crossroads GPS, which are not required to make the names of their donors, or the amounts of their donations, public. Although the law bars candidates like Romney from soliciting donations exceeding $5,000, Republican fundraisers say that candidates and their representatives have flocked to Adelson in recent months, as have representatives from organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce, which intends to spend $50 million in efforts to elect Republicans to Congress. The nonprofit Republican Jewish Coalition has received millions from Adelson in the past, and says it intends to spend some $5 million this year on behalf of candidates such as Josh Mandel (R-OH), running to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Adelson also donated $250,000 to help turn back efforts to recall Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) and $250,000 to a political committee backing Governor Rick Scott (R-FL), who is battling the Justice Department to be allowed to purge hundreds of thousands of minority voters from the voting rolls. (Stone 6/16/2012) In March 2012, 80 billionaires such as Adelson gave two-thirds of the monies raised by super PACs, creating an outsized influence on the presidential and “downticket” election campaigns (see March 26, 2012).
Analysis from the Annenberg Public Policy Center shows that 85 percent of the spending by the top 501(c)4 groups involved in the 2012 presidential campaign has been on ads found to be “deceptive” by fact-checking organizations. Spending from third-party groups, including “nonprofit” 501(c)4 groups, is up by 1,100 percent since the 2008 presidential campaign (see May 2, 2012). All of the ads are by Republican or conservative groups; Democratic 501(c)4 groups have not yet spent any money on the race. The ads, which aired between December 1, 2011 and June 1, 2012, have either targeted Republican presidential primary candidates or President Obama. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, part of the Post’s “Fact Checker” team, recently criticized the wave of untruthful advertising, writing that “watching these ads is a depressing duty for The Fact Checker.… The erroneous assertions emerge… without any shame, labeled as ‘the truth’ or ‘fact.’” Kessler was criticizing ad campaigns by Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009) and the American Future Fund (see October 12, 2010), which spent $8 million to attack Obama’s approval of the expense of “stimulus” money for “wasteful” programs that the ads falsely claimed sent American jobs to foreign countries. According to the Annenberg analysis, the four top groups spending money on deceptive ads are:
The American Energy Alliance, a trade organization that advocates “free market energy policies,” with expenditures of $3,269,000;
Americans for Prosperity, advocating lower taxes and less government spending, with expenditures of $5,018,000;
The American Future Fund, with expenditures of $6,365,930; and
Crossroads GPS, a conservative public policy advocacy group founded by former Bush administration political chief Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee director Ed Gillespie, with expenditures of $10,263,760.
Like the ads Kessler cited, many of the ads bought by the above-listed expenditures went to attack Obama over government financing of green energy companies such as the bankrupt solar company Solyndra. According to Bloomberg News, 81 percent of the attack ads against Obama in the first quarter of 2012 were about energy. (Kessler 4/30/2012; Annenberg Public Policy Center 6/20/2012; Lacey 6/27/2012)
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