Many American progressives are wondering how the Tea Party have done it. Has the Tea Party hit upon a magic policy formula which finds favour with the wealthy and powerful yet wins votes too? Or is the spontaneous, popular and grassroots Tea Party as portrayed on Fox something of a canard? A recent article by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker is a revelation.
Follow the money. The vast majority of the millions flowing in to Tea Party coffers comes from two brothers from Wichita Kansas, Charles and David Koch. They also happen to be the billionaire owners of Koch Industries, America's second largest private company, and have much to gain from the agenda pressed by the Tea Party. A recent Greenpeace report names Koch as the “kingpin of climate science denial” vastly outspending even ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Nobody quite knows how much money has been spent by Koch on political campaigns but a figure of 37 million dollars is cited just on lobbying alone. Greenpeace have called it the climate denial machine, other observers noting that the Kochs political ambitions are much wider than climate change denial have another name for it "the Kochtopus".
Nobody elected the Koch brothers, but they are hugely influential, and it's impossible to gauge the full reach of the Kochtopus. One commentator describes the phenomenon thus "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.”
But in a democracy it's votes that count so a popular movement of ordinary people is mobilised to press the agenda of the Kochtopus. Enter the Tea Party. There are conflicting accounts of whether the Tea Party is grassroots or not. The recent film (Astro)turf Wars shows a slick well funded machine manipulating a handful of deluded activists.
One journalist who thinks he knows the truth is Daniel Hannan who blogs for the Daily Telegraph. "The Tea Party is that rare beast, a genuinely spontaneous popular movement." Mr Hannan insists, dismissing the claims of astroturfing. It's opinion though and not fact so how much it clears the matter up is open to question.
One fact that Mr Hannan fails to disclose to his readers though is that he is surpisingly close to the Koch brothers himself. Mr Hannan addressed the Koch Foundation last year on a pro bono basis. He is quoted on page 7 of the Koch in-house magazine*. And on top of his business as a paid speaker and a journalist Mr Hannan finds the time to represent South East England as an M.E.P. in the European Parliament.
"The idea that the Tea Party is “Astroturf” (meaning fake grassroots) just won’t wash" writes Mr Hannan, a point that might carry a little weight if it was being made by someone at the grassroots, but not by someone so close to the Tea Party's backers. He even defends the Koch Brothers campaign to outspend any opposition "we ought to celebrate political donations" says Mr Hannan, who likes to give the appearance of an impartial observer whilst propagandising for his paymasters.
Koch have sent approximately a million dollars the way of the 'National Center for Policy Analysis' and the 'American Legislative Exchange Council' (both of which are mentioned prominently in Mayer's article) which shares senior staff with the ironically titled 'Regular Folks United' a Tea Party organizer. These outfits sponsored Daniel Hannan's U.S. tour.
Some might ask just why is the Koch funding of political campaigns so rotten? "The Koch brothers have been funding free market campaigns since the 1970s without ever sparking anything like this", writes Mr Hannan , indignantly. "The only difference between us and the Kochs is one of scale: the Kochs are wealthy, and good luck to them." That's fair enough if were talking about David Koch's support of the New York City Ballet but it's the political slush funds to support the bottom line of Koch Industries which is so distasteful and is at issue. David Koch stood on the Libertarian Party ticket in the 1980 presidential election, and now appears to be pushing the United States towards a libertarian agenda .
The Koch brothers back their weltanschauung with millions of dollars, against other ideas which stand or fall on merit alone. Lower taxes for billionaires, less regulation for polluting industries, no public healthcare option are just some of the causes that attract the Koch's money, and Tea Party support with it . “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent. And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding” , says David Koch.
No one can doubt that Mr Hannan's views overlap with the Koch's to some extent, it is widely reported that Charles and David Koch were particularly influenced by Austrian economist F A Hayek's tome "The Road to Serfdom", Daniel Hannan's new book is entitled "The New Road To Serfdom" .
"I have no special brief for the Tea Party" claims Daniel Hannan in an article which asks "If Tea Partiers are such deluded fools, why are they doing so well?" The answer to that has quite a bit to do with the Koch brothers, whom Mr Hannan appears more familiar with than he is letting on.
*Discovery April 2010 http://www.kochind.com/files/DiscoveryApril2010.pdf