Economy

Koch Industries Takes Credit For The ‘Spontaneous’ Tea Parties: We’re Glad We ‘Helped Stimulate’ Them

As ThinkProgress has documented, the lobbyist-run Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has been instrumental in orchestrating the Tea Party movement. The group coordinated “grassroots” protests around the country and provided organizations and communications support to the Tea Parties. AFP staffers are also regular presence at Tea Party rallies. The man behind AFP is David Koch, who is one of the richest men in the world thanks to his oil, chemicals, and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries. In 2009, AFP President Tim Phillips said he “launched our organization.”

Koch Industries and AFP have largely tried to keep their distance from the Tea Parties. From a May 2010 interview with the Frum Forum’s Tim Mak:

Most incredibly striking is Koch’s efforts to distance itself from the Tea Party movement. “We’ve been labeled tea party founders or funders – in fact, masterminds – but that’s not consistent with the facts,” said Fink. “To my knowledge, we have not been approached for support by any of the newer ‘tea party’ or other grassroots groups that have sprung up around the country in the past year or so.”

However, now that Tea Parties are becoming institutionalized, Fink is taking some credit. While still calling the Tea Parties “spontaneous,” he says that Koch would be happy to know that he helped “stimulate” these people into action and acknowledged the role of AFP:

Q: What about the accusations that you are driving these activities – that they’re corporate-sponsored ‘astro-turf’ rather than real grassroots movements?

A: That’s nonsense. … Tea parties reflect a spontaneous recognition by people that if they do not act, the government will bankrupt their families and their country. They’re absolutely right about that.

Now, if our work over the past 30 or 40 years has helped stimulate some of those citizens who are becoming more active, that’s great, but it’s a far cry from pulling strings.

What we have done is support the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which has been active in various forms for nearly 30 years. … AFP and its state chapters have begun collaborating with tea party groups, and we’re in favor of any group willing to constructively address irresponsible government policies.

Koch Industries communications director Melissa Cohlmia has also insisted to ThinkProgress that “AFP is an independent organization and Koch companies do not in any way direct their activities.” However, both Koch and Fink serve as directors of the AFP Foundation.

AFP has used the Tea Parties to push causes that fit the agenda of its wealthy backers. Even though the estate tax hits only the very wealthiest estates — 99.8 percent are not subject to this tax — AFP was urging its members to lobby Congress to block a reinstatement of the estate tax.