At a the Tax Day Tea Party on Monday in Columbia, SC, a number of politicians, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC), gave rather routine speeches blasting the Obama administration and liberals. Towards the end of the event, one speaker delivered a fiery speech excoriating both Democrats and Republicans for giving away hundreds of millions in taxpayer money to well connected corporations in the state. State Sen. Tom Davis (R-SC) explained to the crowd that corporations are dominating South Carolina by hiring lobbyists, then demanding huge tax giveaways from the “ruling elite” of politicians. By giving money away to already powerful corporations, costs are pushed upon regular people in the form of service cuts or higher sales taxes.
After his speech, ThinkProgress spoke with Davis about corporate influence in politics and his fight against tax giveaways to powerful businesses. We also spoke about how receptive the current Tea Party movement is to his message. In fact, as many historians have accurately noted, the real Boston Tea Party was a revolt against a massive corporate tax cut given to the East India Trading Company. The tax cut effectively gave the British corporation a monopoly over the tea trade in colonial America:
DAVIS: You’ve got leadership in the House, Republican and Democrat, leadership in the Senate, Republican and Democrat that are presiding over this ballooning in special deals that are given away to corporations. And the numbers don’t like: $34 million dollars worth of targeted “tax credits” back in 1998 to corporations who lobbied for them has ballooned to $523 million in 2008 and this year it has ballooned to over a billion dollars. We’re not a big state. Our general fund is $5.1 billion dollars. And with a $5.1 billion dollar general fund budget, we’re giving away one billion dollars in tax credits to targeted industries that have lobbyists that are going to lobby for them? Somebody pays that bill, and there’s no free lunch. Who pays the bill are those folks out there that don’t have the power to hire lobbyists. [...]
FANG: The Tea Act that kind of sparked the revolution was actually a specialized tax cut for the East India Trading Company and it basically pushed the price of American imported tea out of the market. And it seems very similar to what you’re saying here.
DAVIS: And the Tea Party was about 1773. Here we are in the year 2011 and we’re still talking about politicians passing out special tax breaks to help--
FANG: To big corporations, like the East India Trading Company was a British corporation.
DAVIS: Oh yeah. It’s absolutely crazy. And its not the free market and its not what made our country great. Our country has been because we’ve counted on individuals taking risks, saving money, working hard. Now, it’s large corporations that have access to lawmakers that get huge tax breaks and there’s no way that the little guy can compete.
The anti-corporate streak of the Tea Party has been muffled by corporate-dominated front groups like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, which are both run by lobbyists. But in ThinkProgress’ conversations with ordinary Tea Party activists, many have expressed concerns that corporate lobbyists have far too much influence in politics. When asked about massive subsidies given to the oil industry, or the fact that dozens of some of the most profitable corporations in America don’t pay a dime in corporate income taxes, Tea Party activists have agreed with progressives that there is a structural imbalance in the political system towards corporate power.
Notably, many companies like Koch Industries (which funds fronts like Americans for Prosperity) have falsely claimed to represent the spirit of the Boston Tea Party. In fact, Koch Industries has used its lobbying power to demand a $50 million tax break from states like Kansas, and has lobbied to pollute tens of billions of dollars worth of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for free.