ThinkProgress spoke to several participants at the OccupySacramento rally. Mark Bradley, a local resident holding a sign condemning the Koch brothers and former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey, explained that he joined the movement because of his concern about the influence of corporate money over government. He also invited rank-in-file Tea Party members to the OccupySacramento event, claiming that he’s already been in conversations with a few. Bradley, however, said “corporate shills” like Armey’s FreedomWorks are unwelcome:
BRADLEY: With the Citizens United case that the Supreme Court approved, there’s now no limit on the amount of money that can be used for lobbying purposes and influencing elections. And we want, we the 99 Percent, are looking for our voice to be heard. Not just the voice of the one percent, but the ninety-nine percent. It’s people over money. [...] Charles and David Koch are representing their own interests. Dick Armey represents the interests of plenty of other large corporations. [...]
BRADLEY: What I have advised my fellow protesters out here is to not shut the door on Tea Party members if they want to become involved in this. They can make common cause with us; we can make common cause with them. We’re talking about the actual grassroots Tea Party people, I’ve talked to several of them and I’ve blogged with some of them. They’re perfectly welcome. We don’t intend to be co-opted by any outside group, especially FreedomWorks or some corporate shill organization.
Bradley is right about FreedomWorks being a front group that shills for corporate interests. The organization, run by longtime corporate lobbyist Dick Armey, generates quasi-grassroots events to promote big business priorities. For instance, a lobbying consortium that represents companies like Chevron, Shell Oil, BP and Consol Energy, organized “EnergyCitizen” rallies to kill clean energy reforms last year. According to reports, Armey’s group mobilized Tea Parties participation for the EnergyCitizen rallies. The astroturfing for the polluter has continued, with FreedomWorks recently generating Tea Party support for a bill that allows polluters to release more mercury, carcinogenic dioxins, and soot into the air. The same fossil fuel lobbying association involved in the EnergyCitizen rallies and the push to deregulate air pollutants has given FreedomWorks at least $130,000 in donations.
The same dynamic happened with Bush’s push for privatizing Social Security. While Wall Street firms paid Armey’s corporate lobbying salary, Armey’s FreedomWorks group planted questions in town halls to support of the Bush plan. Even though polls show roughly half of Tea Partiers want the government to do more to crack down on outrageous banker bonuses, FreedomWorks expressed support for bailed out banks to use taxpayer money to for six and seven figure rewards atop their regular salary. Whether its whipping up Tea Party support for repealing the few financial reforms that made it passed the corporate-filibuster or allowing bankers to gamble with America’s retirement savings, FreedomWorks promotes the corporate interest over the public interest.
Although FreedomWorks is now urging demonstrators to ignore the big banks, the group’s influence may be waning.