In spite of the claims of grass-roots angst bubbling up unassisted, it’s old news that the Tea Party was brought into being through the ministrations of a few corporate front organizations, prominent among them Americans for Prosperity (AFP). The AFP’s ties to the billionaire Koch brothers have been well documented, most recently in Jane Mayer’s excellent New Yorker article. Mayer quotes conservative think tanker, Bruce Bartlet, to the effect that the Kochs, one-time John Birchers, have invested in the Tea Party as a vehicle for creating an ostensibly libertarian movement that, incidentally, also serves the Kochs bottom line:
… With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there-people who can provide real ideological power.” The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.
The Kochs’ man in Missouri, the State Diretor of the Missouri branch of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-MO) until his resignation in July, has been none other than one-time speaker Pro Tem of the Missouri House, Carl Bearden. The term-limited Bearden resigned prematurely from the House shortly after being accused of ethical lapses. He immediately joined the lobbying firm Pelopidas LLC, or as Bearden put it, an “influence management firm” in which he would play a “main role.”
When Bearden joined Pelopidas, he also he also “officially became the lobbyist for retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield,” a major Pelopidas client whose hobby is trying to buy Missouri’s government. Sinquefield, via Pelopidas, has focused on gutting public education and cutting taxes for the wealthy in Missouri, goals not incompatible with the Kochs’. Consequently, it’s not surprising that the AFP-MO, under the leadership of Pelopidas’ Bearden, has used Pelopidas’ “grassroots and coalition building” services. One cannot be blamed for concluding that Carl Bearden unites the wider goals of the Kochs with Sinquefield’s specifically Missouri focus.
One offspring of that union is the Missouri Tea Party. It’s no secret that Bearden was instrumental in organizing and publicizing Tea Party rallies, as well as promoting the Tea Party presence at Town-Halls held by Democratic congress people – complete with astroturf talking points and strategies for how to “artificially inflate your numbers.” Last spring, when Claire McCaskill, looking at what she took to be the writing on the wall, declared “I absolutely empathize with the Tea Party,” the grafitti that got her so flustered was put there by Carl Bearden.
So what, conservatives chime at this point, don’t liberal advocacy groups like MoveOn.org promote progressive events. Don’t they take money from unions, wealthy liberals, even – gasp – from financier George Soros? And haven’t they played a big part in organizing progressives around issues? Unfortunately, for the “balanced” presentation favored by trad media types, the parallels aren’t really that parallel:
–One would be hard-put to find many liberal advocacy group whose raison d’etre can be linked to their donors’ bottom line as is demonstrably the case with the Koch brothers and the AFP. (See also the Mayer article and here.)
—Contrary to groups funded by the Kochs, for example, the lines between donors and liberal advocacy groups are usually highly transparent.
–Finally, although folks may disagree with progressive positions, no liberal advocacy groups have, to my knowledge, tried to pawn off false information in order to whip up their membership. I know of no liberal equivalence to last summer’s “death panels” (the claim made here at an AFP sponsored meeting), or no spurious science intended to plant doubt about proven anthropogenic climate change. Just listing all the lies promulgated by conservative “think tanks, etc. could serve as the focus of a very long post all by itself.
Manufactured though the Tea Party phenomena may be, it is undeniable that many of the participants are totally genuine. These are the angry and frightened individuals who see a changing world and cannot deal with the anxiety and insecurity it generates, as well as those generally unstable individuals who populate any fringe movement. Those recruited to the Tea Party are ripe for exploitation, and in Carl Bearden, the AFP found the right guy to to take advantage of the situation.