Thursday, February 10, 2011

Americans for Prosperity: The Koch Industries - Tea Party Nexus

Guest Post By Nomadic Joe

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.

Created by David Koch and Richard Fink (a member of the board of directors of Koch Industries), Americans for Prosperity is an "astro-turf" front group. To be clear, a front group is any organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned—typically, a corporate or government sponsor. AFP came into being at a July 4th 2010 weekend summit called Defending the American Dream in Austin, Texas, when five hundred people attended what the New Yorker called a training session for Tea Party activists. Even Joe the Plumber was there.
"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."
Advertising for this event stated: "Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests. But you can do something about it." I give them points for irony, that's for sure. There was, naturally no mention of the backers of the event.

David Axelrod, President Obama’s senior adviser, said, "What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens' movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires."

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."

According to an article in the August 30, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, the Kochs are known for "creating slippery organizations with generic-sounding names," that "make it difficult to ascertain the extent of their influence in Washington."

Reports indicate that the Tea Party Movement benefits from millions of dollars from conservative foundations that are derived from wealthy U.S. families and their business interests. It appears that money to organize and implement the Movement is flowing primarily through two conservative groups: Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks.

How it is accomplished in specific detail is rather dry stuff, the kind of arrangement that tax lawyers and an accountants become all dewy-eyed and breathless over. Here it is, in its basic design.

According to official documentation, AFP is a section 501(c)(4) organization, and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation), a section 501(c)(3) organization.

For your information, a 501(c)(4) type are organizations that are supposed to be operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees with membership limited to a designated company or people in a particular municipality or neighborhood, and with net earnings devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.

Groups with this classification had never had to disclose their donors but were not allowed to take corporate or union money, still without disclosure to the FEC.

That, however, was abolished with the January 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision. Following this unprecedented ruling, 501(c)4 groups can now take unlimited corporate and union money, still without disclosing. Questions about ethical misconduct by two Supreme Court justices have arisen specifically in this case and about what many people see as inappropriate contacts with Koch brothers during the deliberations as well as lobbying efforts for the Tea Party by the wife of another.

Affiliated to the AFP is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) which is a section 501(c)(3) organization. Donations to 501c3 organizations which are tax-exempt under section 501(c)3 of the U.S. tax code are tax deductible, "unlike donations to political and lobbying organizations." 501c3 "charities don't have to report their contributors to the Federal Election Commission, the IRS or any federal agency."

"By law, charities must only conduct nonpartisan voter activities to keep their tax-exempt status. But the law also allows charities to register and mobilize likely Democratic or Republican voters. In exchange for being able to accept tax-deductible donations, the IRS demands that 501(c)(3)'s refrain from "activities which constitute participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate."

This prohibition also includes "the publication or distribution of written or printed statements or the making of oral statements on behalf of or in opposition to such a candidate." But 501(c)(3) groups like the Americans for Prosperity Foundation can share a portion of their resources with a 501(c)(4) affiliate, like Americans for Prosperity.

Unlike 501(c)(3) organizations, 501(c)(4) organizations may lobby for legislation; they may also participate in political campaigns and elections, as long as campaigning is not the organization's primary purpose. There has long been a hanging question in campaign finance law, however, over just what constitutes a political communication or campaign

Thus, by pairing these two differently-classed organizations the AFP and its affiliated foundation provide the funding for the Tea Party activities, conduct seminars and other politically related projects, all through tax deductible donations from Koch and other corporation contributors.

Here is a list of the staff at AFP including the state branches from the AFP website.

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:

The link between cigarette smoking and prosperity may not automatically come to mind unless you are part of the tobacco industry. On issues such as cigarette taxation and clean indoor air laws, Americans for Prosperity is staunchly pro-tobacco industry. They have worked around the United States in recent years to defeat legislation regarding smoke-free workplaces and cigarette excise tax increases.

Interestingly AFP's strategy is to paint smoking as "a property right", a tactic formulated by Philip Morris in the middle of the 1990s. A spokesperson for AFP has called anti-smoking bills a "reckless expansion of government" that "set a dangerous precedent." So the next time you hear a Tea-party supporter decry the dangers of "BIG government" you can just translate it as Philip Morris' right to market a cancer-causing product without restraint.

Rolling Stone Magazine has cited Tim Phillips president of AFP, as seventh on a list of the twelve notable people who are blocking progress in reducing climate change.
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.
Another battlefield for AFP has been health care reform. They have set up various front groups in order to hold rallies against health care. One group, Patients United Now organized what is estimated to be in excess of three hundred rallies against health-care reform. Patients United Now also helped organize "Kill the Bill” protests outside the Capitol, in March 2010, where Democratic supporters of health-care reform alleged that they were spat on and cursed at.

Additionally AFP started a group called "Patients First" to oppose health care. Patients First conducts bus tours around the country to create opposition to health care reform. Americans for Prosperity/Patients First visit cities and speaks to rally people and encourage them to oppose health care reform.
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.
Rich also points out:
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.

With all this plotting and stealth, all that secret financing and wild ranting, those private deals and angry but essentially ignorant crowds, it sometimes can be depressing. Still, Kennedy in a November 18, 1961 speech encouraged all of us with this observation:
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.

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