The Koch brothers‘ company sold chemicals to Iran, the proceeds from which may have gone to Republican interests. Tea Party leaders, meanwhile, make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. And yet the Tea Party still claims to be populist?
The Tea Party has gone to great lengths to portray itself as a grassroots, populist movement that grew organically. And, yes, when CNBC’s Rick Santelli first sparked the movement, the Tea Party was indeed organic.
As the group’s scope and influence grew, however, it became further entrenched in and intertwined with the Republican establishment, a fact perhaps best illustrated by the rise of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks becoming a bellwether for the Tea Party’s electoral initiatives.
Now, over two years later, the Tea Party has become nothing more than a glorified baby brother for the Republican Party, as many political observers have noted.
“Far from an uprising against Wall Street and big business, Tea Partiers are among the most pro-big-business segments of the electorate, the poll found: 54 percent rate big business warmly; only 20 percent coolly,” wrote ‘Salon’s’ Joan Walsh last year, after reviewing surveys of the movement’s members. “They are likewise far from the independent, nonpartisan movement some in the media seem to believe they are: The Tea Party is strongly affiliated with the GOP: 86 percent of movement supporters and activists either identify with or lean toward the Republican Party…”
And in a 2010 investigation of Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a lawyer who rode the Tea Party wave last November, I found that Lee’s professional life included representing the company EnergySolutions in a lawsuit requesting they be allowed to manage and bury out-of-state nuclear materials, clearly a violation of the Tea Party’s strict federalist ideology, as well as common sense.
Lee put the nuclear industry above his state’s interest, as well as Utah citizens’ will: 76 percent of the public opposed EnergySolutions’ proposal. For Lee, business interests were more important than the American public and safety, suggesting that the Tea Party has money, not the people, on its mind.
Two news stories out today hammer that point home.
First, a Bloomberg report on Koch Industries. That company is run by Charles and David Koch, two longtime Republican donors who have helped fund and shape the Tea Party. They’re also shameful capitalists, more interested in the bottom line than the American people, American lives or American laws.
In addition to revealing that officials at Koch Industries’ French subsidiary offered bribes to secure business deals, the report shows that the States-based company paid over $400 million in fines from 1999 to 2003 for environmental and price-fixing, including $296 million for negligence on a Texas pipeline that exploded and killed two teenagers. The most politically revealing detail of the analysis, however, comes in the form of Koch Industries’ dealings with one of our nation’s — and the Republican Party’s — greatest enemies: Iran.
A Bloomberg Markets investigation has found that Koch Industries — in addition to being involved in improper payments to win business in Africa, India and the Middle East — has sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, a country the U.S. identifies as a sponsor of global terrorism.
Yes, two of the GOP’s largest donors claim to love the United States, yet love taking money from a rogue state more…
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the movement, Politico reports that national Tea Party and Tea Party-affiliated groups are raking in record donations: $79 million last year, a 61 percent increase from 2009′s numbers. And those numbers will likely only increase: Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers, and Armey’s FreedomWorks told the website they will raise $156 million ahead of the 2012 election. Armey will take home at least $500,000 of that for his related work with Americans for Prosperity.
That group’s president, Tim Phillips, receives $363,000 per year for his work, while FreedomWorks pays its co-chairman Matt Kibbe $321,000 per year. Another national Tea Party group, Tea Party Express, paid out about $2.8 million to right wing consultant Sal Russo’s firm, Russo Marsh.
You get the idea: Russo, Armey, Kibbe and the rest of the Tea Party’s leaders, as well as their funders, Charles and David Koch, are making serious bank while the movement’s rank-and-file continue to suffer under economic malaise: the average Tea Partier makes about $50,000 a year, far less than what their fearless leaders make, and a number certainly eclipsed by the $20 billion each of the Koch Brothers have amassed over their careers. [The Kochs do not generally reveal their annual salaries.]
The economic disparities appear to be having political ramifications within the movement, as well: larger groups are siphoning donors and support from local “rag-tag” groups, according to Politico’s analysis, potentially creating a power vacuum that will destroy the movement’s grassroots base in favor of D.C. insiders. And local leaders are already grumbling about the apparent inequality.
“If the liberty movement does not professionalize and does not build infrastructure — and not just for the sake of professionalizing like the parties — it’s just going to spin its wheels, burn itself out and be over,” Chris Littleton, founder of the Cincinnati Tea Party, told Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel. “Money equals impact. There’s no way around it. Especially sustainable impact.”
The fact that Tea Party activists, and their backers, the Koch brothers, are making money with underhanded tricks should come as no surprise. Anyone who is paying attention understands that the conservative movement is founded not on the constitutional freedoms rank-and-file Tea Party adherents celebrate, but on a twisted individualism that pits citizen against citizen in a sick game of survival of the fittest — and richest — that tainted Washington in the first place. The men and women behind the movement are more interested in themselves than the American people who support them.