What It is
The Tea Party members seem to take great pride in portraying themselves as modern day revolutionaries, the conscience of the people taking back their government. In their minds, the Tea Party is a spontaneously organized, leaderless and populist grassroots movement. In fact, many- if not most of them- have never heard of the oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, or what they do or how they spend their wealth. It is a sadly ironic fact that even those saluting the Kochs’ flag may not know who these brothers are. If they have heard of the organization named Americans for Prosperity, it would have probably have been on Fox News. And, for a news organization, Fox News is exceedingly good at keeping secrets.
“We are thrilled to have Joe the Plumber speak at the Summit,” said AFPF State Director Peggy Venable. “His fearlessly speaking out as an ordinary citizen led the exposure of then-candidate Barak Obama’s plan to ‘spread the wealth.’ Obama’s agenda isn’t working for us, and we are fighting to stop the bankrupting of America. We need more bold grassroots activists like Joe, who are ready to stand up for conservative principles and take back America.”
How It’s Done
With assistance from the Koch family’s other conservative foundations and think tanks, the AFP’s main goal is to disrupt Obama’s presidency on all fronts, from health reform, to stimulus spending, from cap and trade to “green jobs.”
What They Do
According to the very un-grassroots AFP website, their mission statement sounds noble enough.
Americans for Prosperity™ (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. AFP is an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels. The grassroots activists of AFP advocate for public policies that champion the principles of entrepreneurship and fiscal and regulatory restraint.
AFP Foundation is committed to educating citizens about economic policy and a return of the federal government to its Constitutional limits. AFP Foundation’s educational programs and analyses help policymakers, the media, and individual citizens understand why policies that promote the American enterprise system are the best method to ensuring prosperity for all Americans. To that end, AFP and AFP Foundation support:
• Cutting taxes and government spending in order to halt the encroachment of government in the economic lives of citizens by fighting proposed tax increases and pointing out evidence of waste, fraud, and abuse.
• Tax and Expenditure Limitations to promote fiscal responsibility.
• Removing unnecessary barriers to entrepreneurship and opportunity by sparking citizen involvement in the regulatory process early on in order to reduce red tape.
• Restoring fairness to our judicial system.
Despite this glowing self-description, AFP, in some ways, could be more accurately be described as an umbrella organization, receiving additional funds- apart from sums donated by the Koch brothers- through corporations with other agendas. Here’s one example:
Phillips is on a mission to convince Americans that global warming is a plot hatched by Al Gore to take away their freedom and destroy the economy. Backed with $5 million from foundations funded by Koch Industries, Phillips launched a “Hot Air Tour” of America last year, staging faux-populist protests against climate legislation. In California, he organized “No Jobs” fairs to encourage voters to support Proposition 23, the referendum backed by the oil industry that would have scrapped the state’s crackdown on global warming. And during the midterm elections, he cooked up a “No Climate Tax” pledge for conservative candidates, making them all but promise never to utter the words “cap and trade” in public, let alone vote for it in Congress. The political pressure worked: More than 600 candidates signed the planetary death warrant.
AFP has been accused of likening Democratically-proposed health care reform to the regimes of Mugabe, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot as the SEIU-produced video here demonstrates. A speaker at an AFP co-sponsored event in Pueblo, Colorado repeated the discredited conservative idea that Democratic health care reform will mandate physician-assisted suicide or death for older members of society. “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,” he said. The speaker further advises audience to “go to offices of members of Congress and put the fear of god in them.”
All this wild rhetoric is really not new. Murdoch’s Fox News has made the wailing by Beck and others, continuous and wide-ranging. As Frank Rich astutely pointed out in a New York Times op-ed piece:
The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, 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 U.S. 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.
When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools—in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes.
According to a book by Brian Doherty, an editor of Reason magazine, David and his brother Charles viewed politicians as “actors playing out a script” and they wanted to “supply the themes and words for the scripts” by influencing “the areas where policy ideas percolate from: academia and think tanks.” But of course, they omitted the final piece in a triad of influence over the direction of the nation—who it will represent and who it will not. That final piece would be public pressure, kindly manufactured by our good friends at Americans for Prosperity with a donation from special interests. Furthermore, to guarantee that the word gets out, Rupert Murdoch’s news outlets have been recruited to legitimize and broadcast the activities of the Tea Party.
At times these fanatics have achieved a temporary success among those who lack the will or the vision to face unpleasant tasks or unsolved problems. But in time the basic good sense and stability of the great American consensus has always prevailed.