FreedomWorks, a right-wing groupbankrolling the Tea Party, has a new advertisement it is planning to run in Ohio supporting Gov. John Kasich’s union-busting efforts. The advertisement tries to paint union protesters in Ohio as violent thugs. One problem: the ad uses footage from an old union protest in California.
How do we know? This is the same footage from California, which features palm trees, that was used by Bill O’Reilly just days ago. He used it to argue that the protesters in Wisconsin were violent thugs. Here’s the video evidence produced by TP’s Jeff Spross:
Bill O’Reilly’s stunt inspired Wisconsin protesters to mockingly carry inflatable palm trees in Madison:
The larger point is that these protests have been remarkably peaceful, which forces the right to distort the truth.
Tabitha Hale of FreedomWorks responds via Twitter. She defends the ad, claiming it does not “indicate” that “it was Ohio footage.” She makes this claim even though the ad is called “Save Ohio,” it is scheduled to air in Ohio, it is defending Ohio Governor John Kasich, discusses Ohio union protesters and flashes the word “Ohio” on the screen five times.
In a memo to House Republicans marked “confidential”, the Tea Party group FreedomWorks praises the GOP for passing health care repeal legislation in the House, but argues that the party must now turn its attention on the ‘repeal’ part of its agenda to build greater support for rescinding the law. In a reversal of past strategy which urged members to hold votes on specific provisions of the law, the Dick Armey-led group is now asking Republicans to “improve” the law “so long as the improvements don’t significantly increase its support.” Similarly, the group warns the GOP against collaborating with health care groups to eliminate that IPAB board or other provisions “unless the affected industries endorse full repeal.” A more effective strategy is to “Highlight the special interest deals and corrupt bargains. Scrutinize the hundreds of waivers and thousands of pages of regulations issuing from HHS. Publicize the premium cost increases and coverage losses. Keep Dr. Berwick talking,” the memo says.
Republicans should reject some of the most popular elements of reform and offer legislation that embraces the existing individual market, Armey writes. He dismisses reforms like “the unnecessary small-business tax credits” and describes caps on annual limits, the ban on lifetime limits, the adult children coverage provision, and the caps on insurance company profits as “cost insurance mandates.” The memo argues that “[b]anning preex condition clauses is counterproductive, because it raises premiums and causes coverage to be dropped.” “It’s also unnecessary because federal and state laws already offer significant protections,” it says, ignoring the fact that more than 40 states and the District of Columbia don’t have laws protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage.
Instead, Republicans must focus on expanding the unregulated individual health insurance market, without paying too much attention to “how many people are covered,” the memo states. It also encourages the GOP to embrace the health care portions of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Roadmap:
True insurance, which exists to help people pool risks, should be kept distinct in our minds from group “insurance,” which is really a form of pre-paid benefits. With true (individual) insurance, prices need to vary according to risk and purchasers need to plan ahead. You can’t buy fire insurance after your house has burned down. By contrast, pre-paid benefits are generally open to everyone in the group (guaranteed issue) and the price is the same for everyone, regardless of the amount of risk each person brings to the plan (community rating). Many states and Obamacare try to regulate true insurance as if it were pre-paid benefits. That’s misguided in the extreme. When government does that, it merely drives up the costs of the insurance or causes it to become unavailable. Therefore, we should always favor policies that lower the costs of true insurance and increase the number of people who can obtain it. We should grow the individual market.
Not only will this replacement legislation face overwhelming public opposition — polls have consistently shown that Americans approve of the consumer protection provisions in the law — but it would also take away the means by which individuals with chronic conditions can find affordable insurance. FreedomWorks suggests that the 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions should purchase insurance in state-based high-risk pools, but existing pools have failed to attract enough beneficiaries because the cost of covering large groups of sick individuals is simply too great.
FreedomWorks’ solution to transform Medicare into a voucher program and give states block grants to fund Medicaid, would similarly devastate access to coverage. Under the voucher scheme, seniors would have to pay more for comparable coverage, while states received Medicaid block grants — a fixed dollar amount annually that would fall below current growth — would either have to (as the CBO put it) “provide less extensive coverage or to pay a larger share of the program’s total costs.”
A war is brewing among the right wing over the chairmanship of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over health care, climate policy, and energy policy. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) is the leading contender, but Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is seeking a waiver from Republican leadership to retake the gavel, while Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) are also in the hunt. Although the candidates are lockstep in opposition to the Obama agenda and in their intention to launch witch hunts against climate science, Upton is a relative moderate, having admitted in the past that greenhouse emissions should be reduced. In contrast, Barton — who famously apologized to BP this summer — is fully aligned with the oil and gas industry, with $1,482,630 in lifetime contributions.
Now this internal fight has exploded into a Tea Party battle royale. FreedomWorks, run by veteran GOP lobbyist Dick Armey, has launched Down With Upton, a website attacking “Big Government Republican Fred Upton” for a record “full of votes for more regulation, more spending, and more taxes.” In an email announcing the campaign, FreedomWorks cited Glenn Beck’s warning that “light bulbs are just the beginning”:
Fred Upton, currently considered the front-runner for chairmanship of the critical House Energy and Commerce committee, is far out of step with the Tea Party movement, the GOP and the American people as a whole. You may have heard Glenn Beck talking about Fred Upton introducing a bill to ban incandescent light bulbs in favor of so-called “environmentally-friendly” alternatives. The truth is, Fred Upton has a Big Government record a mile long, and light bulbs are just the beginning.
Upton has already reneged his position on light-bulb efficiency, telling Politico “he’s not afraid to go back after an issue he once supported but that has come under withering assault on the conservative airwaves, including on Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck’s talk shows.”
There was, in fact, no bill to ban incandescent light bulbs. Because of the advanced light-bulb standards Upton helped pass in 2007, “the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation,” the New York Times reported last year. “There have been more incandescent innovations in the last three years than in the last two decades.”
FreedomWorks is a pay-to-play corporate front group that has historically served as a service for corporate lobbyists to generate “grassroots” support for narrow special interest legislation. Dick Armey, after taking over the group, routinely used FreedomWorks to serve his corporate clients at his lobbying firm, DLA Piper. As the Washington Post noted, after ThinkProgress highlighted Armey’s use of FreedomWorks “organizing” to his own benefit, he resigned from DLA Piper. However, other corporate lobbyists, like Gray & Schmitz chief lobbyist C. Boyden Gray and Venable lobbyist James Burnley continue to oversee FreedomWorks (and continue to lobby for right-wing corporate interests). In the last two years, FreedomWorks has become known for its key role in organizing Tea Party opposition to President Obama and to reforms designed to help reign in corporate abuses.
On Thursday and Friday, FreedomWorks hosted a retreat for freshmen Republican lawmakers. Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-UT), according to the New York Times, recalled almost breaking out in tears over the vast resources FreedomWorks dedicated to helping him get elected. However, the retreat occurred amidst new reports claiming that Republican insiders and GOP operatives are using events during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress to co-opt new “Tea Party” lawmakers.
ThinkProgress traveled to Baltimore for the retreat, and asked Lee if he was worried about the appearance of attending a retreat run by a former lobbyist for banking other corporate interests:
TP: I know Tea Party groups have actually raised concerns about a lot of quote unquote insider trainings and conferences during this break period. Are you worried that some of this freshmen class are going to be co-opted by lobbyists? I know Dick Armey used to lobby for AIG and some of the big banks and some of the pharmaceutical companies. Are you worried about some of the lobbyists co-opting the Tea Party movement?
LEE: Not at all. To the supporters of the Tea Party movement, and to its antagonists, I have one thing to say: Watch what’s next.
In addition to Lee, other GOP freshmen, including Reps. Todd Young (R-IN), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Tim Scott (R-SC), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Steve Pearce (R-NM), and Andy Harris (R-MD), attended the event. Shortly after the retreat, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Lee appointed one of “Utah’s most prominent lobbyists” to be his chief of staff.
Armey, who presided over the event in Baltimore, has personally lobbied for multinational alcohol company Diego, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Medicines Co, Raytheon, Carmax, and many other corporations. Although Armey and his “Tea Party” cohorts have assailed President Obama’s economic stimulus, which helped create 3 million jobs for the middle class, as wasteful taxpayer “bailouts,” his lobbying firm helped engineer the bank bailouts of 2008. As the Wonk Room reported, while Armey worked for DLA Piper, the firm assisted AIG, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch during President Bush’s bank bailouts.
FreedomWorks is not a genuine grassroots group serving the public interest. Even the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal has exposed Armey building “amateur-looking” websites — under the FreedomWorks brand — to promote Armey’s corporate clients.
Last night, FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey appeared on CNN’s Parker Spitzer to advocate for his conservative views and the tea party. Armey explained that he wants to inject tea party values into mainstream American political culture and wants its politics to define the modern Republican Party.
At one point, Spitzer asked Armey a series of questions about what he thinks the government should and should not be involved in funding to try to “add texture” to what the FreedomWorks chairman believes. During this question period, the CNN host asked Armey if he would “have the federal government pay for higher education?” Armey bluntly responded, “No, I would not.” He then went on to say that the university system of his home state of Texas has “not been made any better by federal money involvement:”
SPITZER: Would you have the federal government pay for higher education?
ARMEY: No I would not.
SPITZER: You would not have any funding?
ARMEY: No. I don’t think the federal government’s involvement in education has benefited the students of America.
PARKER: Wait a minute, finish that thought if you don’t mind.
ARMEY: The federal government has the military academies and it’s an important thing they should continue to do that. But the education of our young people oughta be under the jurisdiction and auspices of the state governments. The state of Texas has a great university system that has not been made any better by federal money involvement.
SPITZER: So you would rip out all the money that goes to the universities and say let the states increase their taxes to pay for it.
ARMEY: Let the states manage the education of their young people.
Armey’s claim that the “federal government’s involvement in education” hasn’t “benefited the students of America” is wildly false. The FreedomWorks chairman’s statement ignores the billions of dollars in federally subsidized loans and grants that enable tens of millions of Americans students to be able to afford to go to college. In the 2008-2009 academic year, federal student loan disbursements totaled $75.1 billion. The same year, “$18.4 billion in Pell Grants averaging approximately $2,973 to 6.2 million students.” A whopping 19 million college students applied for federal assistance this year.
Texas students are major benificiaries of this spending. Students in the state actually utilize federal student loans at a level above that of the average U.S. student. During the 2006-2007 school year, 83 percent of Texans utilized federal student loans, compared to 71 percent of Americans. Additionally, thousands of Texan students receive the federal Pell Grant in order to afford their college education. From 2007-2008, 402,425 Texan students recieved the Pell Grant, totalling $1,077,915,908 in federal assistance for the state. At the state’s largest and flagship university, the University of Texas-Austin, 21 percent of students recieved the Pell Grant during the the same time period. One has to wonder if Armey really believes that Texas’s university system really isn’t “any better” thanks to all of this “federal money involvement.”
This past weekend, conservative activists and Tea Party groups gathered in Chicago for the Right Nation 2010 convention. Among those who attended was former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the chairman of one of the original Tea Party groups, FreedomWorks.
During the event, ThinkProgress sat down with Armey at a blogger’s roundtable. No sooner than we took our seats did Armey come out guns-blazing against Social Security. He called it a “corrupt government practice” that steals people’s money “under false pretenses.” He went on to call Social Security a “Ponzi scheme”:
ARMEY: The government uses the concept of a trust fund to take your money under false pretenses. For years, I wrote about and talked about and taught about what I call ‘corrupt government practices,’ because they’re always so quick to talk about corruption. One of the corrupt government practices is stealing your money under false pretenses. I’ll give you a to wit: social security. When they had the Alan Greenspan commission, they knowingly raised payroll taxes more than what was necessary to meet the flow of output. Social Security is a pay-as-you-go Ponzi scheme. They knew very well that the extra $250 billion would be spent on their social schemes.
Though Tea Party candidates continue to flail on whether or not they would like to privatize Social Security, Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks mince no words about what their plan is for the hugely-successful social safety net. In a Politico interview, Armey said that if he could do one thing as president of the United States, he would make “all government programs…voluntary.” However, the American public remains adamantly opposed to this plan, with two of every three Americans uncomfortable with the idea of privatizing Social Security.
Joan McCarter at Daily Kos points out that the Republican Senate nominee in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, is airing TV ads calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.”
In the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, corporations and special interest groups now enjoy the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Now, with less than 10 weeks until November, it’s clear just how far conservative groups are willing to go to try to influence the midterm elections.
According to a new report from ThinkProgress, conservative organizations have committed (or already spent) $400 million to advance their conservative agenda at the ballot box this year. For comparison’s sake, this outside money alone is more than the Democratic campaign committees spentcombined when they took back both houses of Congress in the last midterm election. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal notes that special interest groups have already spent three times as much in 2010 than they had in 2006.
Among the outside groups that plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars electing conservatives are some familiar faces and some new ones as well. While the NRA and the Chamber of Commerce have long supported conservative causes, the former plans to double its spending from $10 million in 2006 to $20 million now and the latter will triple its commitment to $75 million this year. Many new groups are also entering the scene in a big way, including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group with $52 million and Norm Coleman’s American Action Network with $25 million.
Those conservative groups trying to use $400 million in outside spending to tip the midterm election include:
– Chamber of Commerce has pledged to spend $75 million
– American Crossroads has pledged to spend $52 million
– Americans for Prosperity has pledged to spend $45 million
– Republican State Leadership Committee has pledged to spend $40 million
– American Action Network has pledged to spend $25 million
– American Future Fund has pledged to spend up to $25 million
– Club for Growth has pledged to spend at least $24 million
– National Republican Trust PAC has pledged to spend at least $20 million
– An unnamed health insurance industry coalition has pledged to spend $20 million
– National Rifle Association has pledged to spend $20 million
– Faith and Freedom Coalition has pledged to spend $11 million
– FreedomWorks has pledged to spend $10 million
– Americans for Job Security has pledged to spend $10 million
– Susan B. Anthony List has pledged to spend $6 million
– Our Country Deserves Better (Tea Party Express) has already spent $5 million
– Tax Relief Coalition has already spent $4 million
– Republican Majority Campaign has pledged to spend $3 million
– Campaign for Working Families has pledged to spend $2 million
– Heritage Action for America has pledged to spend $1 million
– Financial Services Roundtable has already spent $0.5 million
– Family Research Council has raised $0.5 million
– Citizens United Political Victory Fund has pledged to spend $0.2 million
TOTAL: $399.2 million
Given the number of progressive accomplishments in the 111th Congress, including health care reform, the economic stimulus bill, and Wall Street reform, it’s no wonder that conservative groups are fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent a repeat next term. Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist who has also been involved in many independent-expenditure campaigns, told Politico, “If there is a time for independent groups to step up, this is it. This is the year for independent groups to put up or shut up.” Indeed, with conservative special interest groups putting it all on the line this November, their $400 million pledge may even increase before long.
On Friday, U.S. Senate candidate Mike Lee (R-UT) sat down with the Salt Lake Tribune’s Robert Gehrke for a wide-ranging interview. With the help of corporate front groups like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater defeated incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) in the Republican primary convention over a month ago. Libertarian leader Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), as well as RedState, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and others have endorsed Lee over Bridgewater for the run-off election, which will be held today.
Lee was asked by the Tribune if he supported efforts, such as the one by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), to raise the liability cap for oil companies from the current $75 million to at least $10 billion. Lee’s response was a blunt, “no,” followed later by an explanation that the minuscule $75 million cap was part of a “set of settled expectations that you give to a business when it decides to make an investment.” Lee said it would be a “mistake” to raise the liability cap for companies like BP and Anadarko, even if maintaining the status quo leaves “taxpayers on the hook for part of the damage”:
SL TRIBUNE: Currently there’s a cap on liabilities that BP is expected to pay $75 million dollars. There’s legislation that Bill Nelson sponsored to increase that liability to $10 billion dollars. The oil companies say that will put them out of business. Is that something you would be supportive of, increasing that cap on liability for environmental damage?
MIKE LEE: No.
SL TRIBUNE: Why is that?
LEE: This company is reliant, the entire industry, is reliant on the insurance its provided by law. Now had that cap not been in place, we would be facing a completely different question. But you have a set of settled expectations that you give to a business when it decides to make an investment in this. Our country benefits from this type of activity and allows us to produce more oil and allows more of our petro dollars to remain in the United States. We’ve relied on that, and to take that away I think would be a mistake.
SL TRIBUNE: Does that leave taxpayers on the hook for part of the damage?
LEE: Well yea probably does. And the government can look at that and say look, we put this damages cap in place, so we understood what that meant.
SL TRIBUNE: Isn’t that equivalent to a bailout?
LEE: I don’t think, well, I don’t think that’s equivalent to a bailout. I think that’s the government saying there’s some things its going to — if you look at the Outer Continental Shelf, something over which the United States has jurisdiction, and the United State wants to clean that up, then it’s free to do so. There’s nothing in that liability cap that requires the Federal government to do it. Well I’m not sure that necessarily means the taxpayers will end up paying the bill. It maybe the industry generally will just contribute to it. In fact I would expect other people involved in offshore drilling will have a part of the clean up because they would want to to show this can be done safely and when disasters do happen it can be cleaned up.
Lee’s candid answers place him in ideological alignment with other leaders of the conservative movement who have fought aggressively to block bills aimed at raising the liability cap for BP and other oil companies. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have repeatedly prevented the bill to lift the cap from reaching the floor of the Senate for debate.
Lee also said he expects industry to act out of charity to clean up the spill and pay for BP’s damage. Of course, ExxonMobil fought the victims of the Exxon Valdez spill all the way to the Supreme Court, where the Roberts Court drastically lowered the compensation levels by 80%.
Despite the history of oil companies doing everything possible not to pay for their pollution, this widely held conservative belief, that industry will always do the right thing without government intervention, is emblematic of the modern American right. In every major policy battle of the Obama era — energy, financial reform, health reform, etc. — Republicans have decried any form of regulation and oversight as an unjust “government takeover” of private business. Even when businesses act in a criminal way, like on Wall Street before the financial crisis or with BP’s deadly skirting of best drilling practices, the GOP has stepped up to apologize to industry while obstructing every attempt for reform.
During an interview today with FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe on ABC’s Top Line, host Karen Travers noted that the cover of his upcoming book — Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto — says “lower taxes plus less government equals more freedom.” Travers then asked, “How does that less government sentiment square with this massive government effort down there in the Gulf to contain the spill?”
In response, Kibbe was able to kill two birds with one stone: deflect criticism from BP and his own personal philosophy by saying that he expects government to act “when there is a natural disaster”:
KIBBE: Well I think if you look at what’s happened down there, it’s a sad story of government incompetence as well as negligence on the part of BP. And I think what you have to look at is when there is a natural disaster like this we do expect our government to do some things and to do them well. And the whole point of limited government is you want the government to be competent at those few things that we need it to do and this is an example where the government was asleep at the switch and there’s a series of regulations that led to deep drilling as opposed to more economical and safer options.
Watch it (starting at 4:00):
Of course, natural disasters are uncontrollable events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Tens of millions of gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico due to an oil company’snegilgence and misconduct does not qualify. In fact, just last year, BP opposed stricter safety and environmental rules proposed by the U.S. Minerals Management Service. A BP executive tried to fight off the new regulations on Capitol Hill, saying that drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has been shown to be “both safe and protective of the environment.”
Even though Kibbe lobbed the obligatory “negligence” charge at BP, what he didn’t explain is that he might have an interest in deflecting blame away from the oil giant. As ThinkProgress reported last month, FreedomWorks worked with BP to build grassroots support for opening up large sections of both the East and West coasts to new oil drilling. BP listed the group as part its “significant grassroots supporters” on a PowerPoint slide at a presentation by the BP-funded front group “Consumer Energy Alliance” at a conference in 2007.
BECK: I have to tell you, this was a hard decision for me to take on FreedomWorks, and here’s why: because I don’t want to send the message to you that the way to restore our republic is through the political process only. And I was afraid that you would hear “FreedomWorks” and you would say, “Well, wait a minute, what does that mean? I think you do. I think you do. I think you need to get onto every bandwagon you can get onto right now.”
I want to send you the message that FreedomWorks is the only– and we’ve looked — the only organization that we have seen that really truly has the organizational power (the other one is like the NRA is also like this). They have the infrastructure, they have the organizational power, they have the ability to get information to people quickly, en masse.
And we must, must, must link arms with people. Everybody plays a different role. My message to you is to shore yourself up personally, with history, with faith, and with your own personal finances. That is my course that I am charting. I’ve got to move away from the political stuff. That is what kept me up last night. But political stuff has got to be done. You have to pay attention. There are things that are happening in Washington that you have to know about. We need the Tea Party protests to continue. We need to organize and reach out to each other. So I want you to go to Freedomworks.org, because freedom works.
Beck’s pairing with FreedomWorks is a perfect marriage of their economic interests. Both groups are Tea Party profiteers, exploiting the fears of the conservative base to enrich themselves personally. Beck may do more than just promote the Tea Parties: FreedomWorks Action has made clear that it has a list of “targets” in the 2010 elections — all of whom happen to be Democrats or Independents — that it will be going after. The candidates the group is supporting are far-right conservatives like Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Pat Toomey. Despite the everyman, outsider image he likes to portray, Beck’s partnership means that he will be working even closer with a bevy of DC insiders.
In the past, Beck has picked up the opposition research and talking points of another corporate-funded front group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP). His character-assassination campaign directed at Van Jones was fueled by AFP’s policy effort to kill green jobs. Beck also followed AFP’s lead in calling net neutrality an attack on freedom of speech.