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The Koch Brothers and the Tea Parties

Jane Mayer has written a thorough and engaging piece about the Koch brothers for the latest issue of the New Yorker. While some have quipped that it falls short of penetrating the veil of secrecy that David and Charles prefer to operate behind, it is nonetheless required reading for anyone interested in the men behind Americans for Prosperity, a primary benefactor to the Tea Party movement and a group that plans to spend millions on behalf of Republican candidates in the upcoming election cycle.

While the Kochs are reluctant to admit any direct ties to the tea parties that have swelled across the nation, David and Charles’s efforts to promote libertarian ideas by spending more than a hundred million dollars on right-wing causes have arguably contributed more momentum to the movement than those of any other individuals:

“Ideas don’t happen on their own,” Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a Tea Party advocacy group, told me. “Throughout history, ideas need patrons.” The Koch brothers, after helping to create Cato and Mercatus, concluded that think tanks alone were not enough to effect change. They needed a mechanism to deliver those ideas to the street, and to attract the public’s support. In 1984, David Koch and Richard Fink created yet another organization, and Kibbe joined them. The group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, seemed like a grassroots movement, but according to the Center for Public Integrity it was sponsored principally by the Kochs, who provided $7.9 million between 1986 and 1993. Its mission, Kibbe said, “was to take these heavy ideas and translate them for mass America. . . . We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions—Saul Alinsky, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. We studied the idea of the Boston Tea Party as an example of nonviolent social change. We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates.” Within a few years, the group had mobilized fifty paid field workers, in twenty-six states, to rally voters behind the Kochs’ agenda. David and Charles, according to one participant, were “very controlling, very top down. You can’t build an organization with them. They run it.”

Citizens for a Sound Economy later split into two groups — FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity — both of which have provided direct education, training, and support to Tea Party activist groups across the nation. AFP has offerred “Tea Party Talking Points,” urged citizens to protest by sending tea bags to Obama, and provided directions to protests. It is now hosting “Defending the American Dream” summits across the county, the next one scheduled in Washington, D.C. for this Friday and Saturday. The event package includes transportation to Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor Rally” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this Saturday.

Also of note are the strange echoes in the rhetoric of today’s Tea Party candidates of the ideas put forward by David Koch when he ran as vice-president on the Libertarian Party ticket to the right of Ronald Reagan:

Many of the ideas propounded in the 1980 campaign presaged the Tea Party movement. Ed Clark told *The Nation *that libertarians were getting ready to stage “a very big tea party,” because people were “sick to death” of taxes. The Libertarian Party platform called for the abolition of the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., as well as of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. The Party wanted to end Social Security, minimum-wage laws, gun control, and all personal and corporate income taxes; it proposed the legalization of prostitution, recreational drugs, and suicide. Government should be reduced to only one function: the protection of individual rights. William F. Buckley, Jr., a more traditional conservative, called the movement “Anarcho-Totalitarianism.”

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