Breakthrough? Time Magazine Covers the Origins of the Tea Party
April 9, 2016
Time magazine posts an excerpt from Poison Tea: How Big Oil and Big Tobacco Invented the Tea Party and Captured the GOP – which I guess I’ll have to add to my stack next to Dark Money.
Charles and David Koch—who, if their individual fortunes were combined in one place, would quite possibly represent the wealthiest person on earth—have almost certainly spent or raised more than a billion dollars to successfully bend one of the two national parties in America to their will. The long rise of the Tea Party movement was orchestrated, well funded, and deliberate. Its aim was to break Washington. And it has nearly succeeded, as America saw in the debt-ceiling debacle of 2011, prompted by the Republican Party’s demand that the president negotiate over deficit reduction in exchange for an increase in the maximum amount of money the US Treasury is allowed to borrow. There are no mistakes or accidents in the Tea Party movement. Its leadership has made certain of that.
One of my first assignments as a consultant for CSE was to join the CSE leadership on a New York fund-raising trip to meet with a huge corporate partner with vast experience in building real political muscle who could help CSE reach beyond Koch oil money for their new grassroots efforts. We visited Philip Morris’ headquarters in New York.
We were met by several of Philip Morris’s state-based government affairs experts, all of whom had significant experience in building coalitions with an eye toward blocking regulations they didn’t like at the state level. The concept that CSE put on the conference table, which was quickly taken up by the Philip Morris staff, was a bit shocking to me. They proposed an unholy alliance—Philip Morris money commingled with Koch money to create anti-tax front groups in a handful of states that would battle any tax that moved. It would make no difference what kind of tax—the front groups could battle cigarette excise taxes in the Northeast and refined-oil fees at the coasts. Any tax, for any purpose, was bad—and these front groups would tackle them all, with Philip Morris and the Kochs behind them.
It made good business sense—and good political sense as well. You could relabel just about anything as a tax, and heaven knows the American public hates taxes. This, at its core, was the beginning of the American Tea Party revolt against the power of the government to pay for its programs. They could recruit average citizens from a variety of ideological groups to their cause. They would work side by side with corporate-directed workers and employees, providing real boots on the ground when enough activists weren’t readily available. And no one would be the wiser—or even care— that these “grassroots” anti-tax groups would be jointly created and funded by the largest private oil company and the largest cigarette company in the world.
Is this a trend?
Now they tell us the Republican Party is to blame? That the Obama years haven’t been gummed up by Both Sides Are To Blame obstruction?
The truth is, anyone with clear vision recognized a long time ago that the GOP has transformed itself since 2009 into an increasingly radical political party, one built on complete and total obstruction. It’s a party designed to make governing difficult, if not impossible, and one that plotted seven years ago to shred decades of Beltway protocol and oppose every inch of Obama’s two terms. (“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.)
And for some of us, it didn’t take Donald Trump’s careening campaign to confirm the destructive state of the GOP. But if it’s the Trump circus that finally opens some pundits’ eyes, so be it.
Recently, Dan Balz, the senior political writer for the Washington Post, seemed to do just that while surveying the unfolding GOP wreckage as the party splinters over Trump’s rise. Balz specifically noted that four years ago political scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein examined the breakdown in American politics and zeroed in their blame squarely on Republicans.
“They were ahead of others in describing the underlying causes of polarization as asymmetrical, with the Republican Party — in particular its most hard-line faction — as deserving of far more of the blame for the breakdown in governing,” Balz acknowledged.
“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional,” Mann and Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012. “In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
And what was the Beltway media’s response when Ornstein and Mann squarely blamed Republicans during an election year for purposefully making governing impossible? Media elites suddenly lost Mann and Ornstein’s number, as the duo’s television appearances and calls for quotes quickly dried up. So did much of the media’s interest in Mann and Ornstein’s prescient book.
For more back story on this, I’m pasting in here a post from a few years ago describing exactly the unholy alliance between tobacco, big oil, and big ignorance.
The anti-science movement is rooted in the decades old realization among conservative corporate and political entities, that the findings of science were not always compatible with the economic interests of the wealthy and powerful. (read this post first for background. If you still have 17 minutes, the video above is worth your time)
The publication of an exhaustive investigation into the origins of a tobacco funded anti-science movement got headlines last week, as clear lines can now be drawn between corporate pirates like David Koch, the Tobacco barons, and “grassroots” movements like the Tea Party, all of which are prominent in the climate denial movement. (for example, we have at least one prominent Tea Party member who regularly posts his climate denialist views in comment threads here)
The study, which appears on Feb. 8 in the journal Tobacco Control, shows that rhetoric and imagery evoking the 1773 Boston Tea Party were used by tobacco industry representatives as early as the 1980s as part of an industry-created “smokers’ rights’’ public relations campaign opposing increased cigarette taxes and other anti-smoking initiatives.
From previously secret tobacco industry documents available at the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, IRS filings and other publicly available documents, the study authors traced a decades-long chain of personal, corporate and financial relationships between tobacco companies, tobacco industry lobbying and public relations firms and nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party.
A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene.
Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry’s role in driving climate disruption.
The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party’s anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.
Published in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Tobacco Control, the study titled, ‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party, is not just an historical account of activities in a bygone era. As senior author, Stanton Glantz, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) professor of medicine, writes:
“Nonprofit organizations associated with the Tea Party have longstanding ties to tobacco companies, and continue to advocate on behalf of the tobacco industry’s anti-tax, anti-regulation agenda.”
The two main organizations identified in the UCSF Quarterback study are Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks. Both groups are now “supporting the tobacco companies’ political agenda by mobilizing local Tea Party opposition to tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws.” Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity were once a single organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). CSE was founded in 1984 by the infamous Koch Brothers, David and Charles Koch, and received over $5.3 million from tobacco companies, mainly Philip Morris, between 1991 and 2004.
In 1990, Tim Hyde, RJR Tobacco’s head of national field operations, in an eerily similar description of the Tea Party today, explained why groups like CSE were important to the tobacco industry’s fight against government regulation. Hyde wrote:
“… coalition building should proceed along two tracks: a) a grassroots organizational and largely local track,; b) and a national, intellectual track within the DC-New York corridor. Ultimately, we are talking about a “movement,” a national effort to change the way people think about government’s (and big business) role in our lives. Any such effort requires an intellectual foundation – a set of theoretical and ideological arguments on its behalf.”
The common public understanding of the origins of the Tea Party is that it is a popular grassroots uprising that began with anti-tax protests in 2009.
However, the Quarterback study reveals that in 2002, the Kochs and tobacco-backed CSE designed and made public the first Tea Party Movement website under the web address www.usteaparty.com. Here’s a screenshot of the archived U.S. Tea Party site, as it appeared online on Sept. 13, 2002:
In the 1980s, the study found, the tobacco industry launched a PR campaign focused around the idea that cigarette taxes, public health studies and other anti-smoking initiatives infringed on “smokers’ rights.” Anything that curtailed industry profits would be recast as an infringement on smokers by an intrusive government. Sound familiar?
In 1993, an ad executive working for Phillip Morris proposed that the Coalition Against Regressive Taxation form a new campaign that, 20 years later, sounds a lot like what we know today: “Grounded in the theme of ‘The New American Tax Revolution’ or ‘The New Boston Tea Party,’ the campaign should take the form of citizens representing the widest constituency base mobilized with signage and other attention-drawing accoutrements such as lapel buttons, handouts, petitions and even costumes.”
News of the study has touched a nerve on the right wing blogosphere, and prompted an outraged harrumph from Fox News:
The charge that the Tea Party is a tool of broader corporate interests is one often leveled by Democratic critics. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was fond of calling the movement “astroturf” in the run-up to the 2010 mid-term elections where Tea Partiers helped Republicans take control of the House.
The research at the University of California-San Francisco echoes the claim, while weaving in an attractive narrative for Tea Party critics — that the Tea Party is continuing the agenda of the tobacco industry.
Tea Party leaders, though, roundly rejected the findings. They argued that the groups the study focused on do not compose the entirety of the movement, and that the tobacco issue is a relatively minor aspect of the present-day small-government agenda.
And they complained that a study that arguably targeted administration critics was funded by taxpayers.
“It’s an example of the frivolous spending inside the government … that has landed us $17 trillion in debt,” said Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin.
So it’s delightful to find this paragraph in the study,
…the conservative media, including Fox News and the network of conservative talk radio hosts and bloggers, provided a unified forum to amplify these messages. The tobacco industry has played a part in building this network, both by working with Roger Ailes (who subsequently became Fox News CEO) and funding the National Journalism Center which ‘train[s] budding journalists in free market political and economic principles.’
The statement is backed by copious footnotes and links to original tobacco industry documents from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library – internal memos released as part of the settlement of lawsuits against the tobacco industry. (click images for pdf of originals):
Poignantly, Fallin concludes by noting that “people who support the Tea Party favor smoke free laws at virtually the same rate as people who were opposed to the Tea Party.” So at the grassroots level, legitimate feelings of patriotism, national pride, concerns about big government and the economy, have been co-opted and bent, with low information voters attending Glenn Beck rallies, reading from a script prepared for them decades ago, serving a corporate agenda of which they have absolutely no knowledge, and which is counter to their own best, highest wellbeing.