The Tea Party: One Big Conspiracy
The right-wing media wants you to believe that the Tea Party was a grassroots movement that spontaneously formed to express conservative America’s widespread discontent with the trajectory of the then-newly-elected President Obama. Recently uncovered evidence reveals that that this may not be true.
A study in the peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Control indicates that a tea party-like organization was originally conceived in the 1980s by tobacco companies to promote smoker’s rights and consumer choice. Some of the organizations funded by the tobacco industry went on to become the direct precursor of today’s Tea Party movement.
It all started in the 1980s when tobacco companies and billionaire industrialist David Koch created and funded an organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). The authors of the study said that Big Tobacco gave CSE at least $5.3 million, though there might have been more untraceable funds, as 501(c)(3)s don’t have to reveal their donors.
CSE rattled around for over two decades, pushing for an end to tobacco taxes, regulations, and smoking bans. When it failed to stop the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement in 2004 – the famous case that cost the industry over $2 billion – it finally broke up. But it didn’t end there…
In 2004, the same year that CSE closed its doors, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works opened theirs with the money and infrastructure left behind by CSE. Both of these conservation non-profit organizations are closely associated with the Tea Party movement. In fact, in 2007, the chairman of Freedom Works wrote an op-ed and started a website proposing a Boston Tea Party model of grassroots mobilization to put pressure on the central government. This was two years before the “spontaneous formation” of today’s Tea Party.
But it gets more suspicious. Documents from RJ Reynolds’ director of national field operations and Philip Morris’ PR representative indicate that Big Tobacco had a hand in formulating the very ideology of the Tea Party. The Reynolds memo talks about building “broad coalitions around the issue-cluster of freedom, choice, and privacy.” The Morris memo seeks support from the Coalition Against Regressive Taxation in order to end “so-called ‘hidden’ taxes that erode consumer spending power” (a.k.a. the ever increasing taxes on cigarettes.) Both of these memos were written in the early 1990s, meaning that Big Tobacco has been stirring the proverbial tea pot for over 20 years.
What do these monetary and ideological links between Big Tobacco and the Tea Party mean for the future of the organization? Since one of the most prevailing myths of the organization is that is formed for “real Americans” who are fed up with big government the fact that it got both money and ideas from a huge corporate conglomerate undermines its very reason for being.
Additionally, it makes any of its consumer choice and pro-smoking platforms suspect.
Though the sincerity of the “real Americans” that attend Tea Party rallies is not in doubt, the loyalties of those higher up in the organization, especially those connected with Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, is questionable. There have been rumors since Day One that Freedomworks was in cahoots with right-wing media outlets like Fox to inflate Tea Party support.
Current polls show only 8% of Americans affiliate themselves with the movement, which is still the basis for a lopsided amount of fawning news coverage.
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