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Context of 'August 2, 2009: Conservative Blogger Calls Anti-Reform ‘Tea Party’ Groups ‘Counterinsurgencies’'

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FreedomWorks logo.FreedomWorks logo. [Source: FreedomWorks]The progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress profiles FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying firm that uses the practice of “astroturfing” to press its agenda home. FreedomWorks is one of the organizations behind the anti-tax “tea party” movement (see April 8, 2009). The organization denies that it is “astroturfing”—creating fake “citizens groups” that purport to be spontaneously organized grassroots organizations—and compares its work to that of liberal activism group MoveOn.org. However, Think Progress notes that MoveOn is a citizen-organized group, while FreedomWorks is headed by former Republican activists and corporate officials, and is funded by oil, energy, and tobacco companies. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and current Washington lobbyist (R-TX) leads FreedomWorks. [Think Progress, 4/14/2009]
'Amateur-Looking' Astroturfing Sites - Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks’ use of “amateur-looking” Web sites for its “astroturf” groups to bolster their credibility as purported “citizen groups” pushing for corporate interests (see May 16, 2008). [Think Progress, 4/14/2009]
Represented by PR Firm with GOP Links - FreedomWorks is represented by the Washington public relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Shirley & Banister also represents conservative organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Citizens United, news outlet Human Events, and organizer Richard Viguerie’s direct-mail firm. (It also represents the Bradley Foundation, a conservative funding organization that in 2008 gave $25,000 to both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity [AFP], gave FreedomWorks $75,000 in 2009, and is considering a grant request from AFP.) One of Shirley & Banister’s partners is Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican PR operative who helped develop the overtly racist 1988 “Willie Horton” political ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells her audience: “This is a perfect system for the Republican Party. It’s a constant feedback loop. The Republican Party activists stir up fear and anger on the Internet… Fearful, angry people go to town hall events and then Republican Party officials say they are just responding to that anger and they have no idea where it came from. It’s [a] perfect cycle. Rile them up with made-up stuff and then sympathize with them that are so riled.” [MSNBC, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
Led by Millionaires - Three of FreedomWorks’ most prominent senior officials are millionaires. Armey makes over $500,000 a year working for the organization, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Board member Steve Forbes, the billionaire publisher of Forbes magazine, lives in a New Jersey home valued at $2.78 million, owns a chateau in France, and recently sold a private island in Fiji and a palace in Morocco. [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2008]
FreedomWorks Supports Armey's Lobbying Efforts - Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, represents pharmaceutical firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, medical device supplier SleepMed, health care provider Metropolitan Health Networks, and another pharmaceutical firm, Medicines Company. One member of FreedomWorks’s board of directors is Richard Stephenson, the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He is also the president of International Capital and Management Company, which runs a hospital consulting company. The president of FreedomWorks is Matt Kibbe, the former senior economist for the Republican National Committee and the former chief of staff for Representative Dan Miller (R-FL). FreedomWorks is organizing protests against health care reform that would cut into pharmaceutical firms’ profits. DLA Piper represents a number of life insurance firms; FreedomWorks has organized support for the deregulation of the insurance industry. DLA Piper represents not only several American oil firms, but also Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on energy related issues such as maintaining the close ties between the US and the UAE. US oil firms are deeply involved in the UAE’s oil industry. [Center for Responsive Politics, 2009; Think Progress, 4/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009] In August 2009, after reporting on FreedomWorks, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her audience: “Washington lobbyists and health care executives and former Republican Party officials have just as much a right to shout down the policy debate about health care reform as anyone else does. These folks have just as much a right to try to derail this entire process as anyone else does. But we have a right to know who they are and who is paying them for their efforts. These guys are pros. This is an industry. This is beltway politics being organized and played out in town halls across the country.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] DLA Piper has also received $830,000 this year, so far, from the pharmaceutical firm Medicines Company; the same firm paid DLA Piper $1.5 million in 2008. [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
FreedomWorks Lobbying on Behalf of DLA Piper? - In August 2009, Maddow will ask, “[W]hy are DLA Piper’s clients relevant?” She answers herself, “There appears to be some pretty good evidence that when you pay Dick Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, you get what Dick Armey’s grassroots organization FreedomWorks does.” In the first half of 2007, the American Council of Life Insurers paid DLA Piper $100,000 to lobby on its behalf. During that time span, FreedomWorks began lobbying Congress on a “grassroots” basis to deregulate the life insurance industry. Maddow will sarcastically ask: “And, of course, perhaps it is just mere coincidence that FreedomWorks happened to have a newfound, ideological, purist grassroots commitment to life insurance deregulation at the same time the American Council of Life Insurers hired Dick Armey’s lobbying firm. It could just be a coincidence. Could be, right?” In 2006, DLA Piper began lobbying for the Senado de Republica, the Mexican Senate, for the purpose of “enhancing US-Mexico relations.” At the same time, FreedomWorks began promoting itself as “one of the few organizations willing to aggressively promote meaningful immigration reform.” In 2004, during the Bush administration’s push to privatize Social Security, a single mom from Iowa was introduced at a White House economic conference as a supporter of privatization. That mom was a FreedomWorks employee. Maddow will say: “This is how FreedomWorks does their work. They try to create the impression that their just regular grassroots Americans without any financial or political interests in the outcome of these policy fights.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: MoveOn (.org), Steve Forbes, Think Progress (.org), Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Wall Street Journal, Matt Kibbe, Bristol-Myers Squibb, DLA Piper, Medicines Company, FreedomWorks, Dick Armey

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” [Think Progress, 4/15/2009; Think Progress, 5/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Ralph Reed, Republican National Committee, Paul Ryan, Tim Phillips, Obama administration, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Michael Steele, Barack Obama, Neil Cavuto, Center for American Progress, Ana Marie Cox, Americans for Progress, Fox Business Channel, Fox News, Koch Industries, David Vitter, American Solutions for Winning the Future, FreedomWorks, Glenn Beck, Dick Armey

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress profiles Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative Washington lobbying organization that is planning to coordinate anti-tax “tea party” protests (see April 8, 2009 and April 15, 2009) with a summer push against the White House’s health care reform proposals. AFP is largely funded by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in the US; AFP has long advocated positions favorable to the energy and health care industries. AFP also uses the technique of “astroturfing,” the creation of ostensibly citizen-driven “grassroots” advocacy groups that are actually funded and driven by corporate and lobbying interests. AFP’s most recent creation is a “front group” called “Patients United Now” (PUN), a group explicitly designed to thwart health care reform. PUN’s Web site declares, “We are people just like you,” and actively solicits participation and donations from ordinary Americans without revealing its corporate roots. AFP employs close to 70 Republican operatives and former oil industry officials.
Other 'Astroturf' Campaigns - Think Progress notes that other AFP “Astroturf” groups have organized events such as the “Hot Air Tour” attacking environmental regulation, the “Free Our Energy” movement to promote domestic oil drilling, the “Save My Ballot Tour” which sent conservative activist “Joe the Plumber” (see October 10, 2008) around the country attacking the Employee Free Choice Act, the “No Climate Tax” group aimed at defeating the Clean Energy Economy legislation, and the “No Stimulus” organization, which opposes the Obama administration’s economic policies.
Headed by Former Abramoff Colleague - AFP’s president is Tim Phillips, a veteran conservative lobbyist and “astroturfer.” In 1997, Phillips, then a Republican campaign strategist, joined Christian conservative activists in a new lobbying firm, Century Strategies. The firm promised to mount “grassroots lobbying drives” and explained its strategy as “it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard—and by whom.” Century Strategies was given a boost by Texas GOP political operative Karl Rove, and began its career representing the Texas oil giant Enron. The firm was paid $380,000 to mobilize “religious leaders and pro-family groups” to push energy deregulation on the federal and state level, an effort which helped lead, says Think Progress, “to the energy crisis and economic meltdown of 2001.” As part of their efforts, Phillips and his partner, former Christian Coalition official Ralph Reed, used their congressional connections and “placed” purported “news” articles in the New York Times and other prominent newspapers. Phillips managed the firm’s direct mail subsidiary, Millennium Marketing, which was hired by then-GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to pressure members of Congress to oppose federal wage and worker safety legislation. Phillips and Reed also worked with Abramoff in the lobbyists’ efforts to fraudulently charge Native American tribes millions of dollars in lobbying fees over their efforts to build casinos on tribal lands. And they helped Abramoff launder gambling money. Phillips and Reed are responsible for the ads that helped Republicans win election victories by comparing Democratic candidates to Osama bin Laden, and helped George W. Bush (R-TX) defeat Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2000 by accusing McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child. They were unsuccessful in preventing the 2000 election of Republican Eric Cantor (R-VA) to the House by attacking his Jewish heritage. [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
Headed by Oil Billionaire, Republican Party Funder - MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will later note that AFP’s director is Art Pope, a multi-millionaire who has given so much money to the North Carolina Republican Party that it named its headquarters after him. The national chairman of AFP is David Koch, who with his brother runs Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US and a longtime supporter of right-wing causes. Koch is the 19th richest man in the world. [MSNBC, 8/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Tim Phillips, Think Progress (.org), Ralph Reed, Patients United Now, Millennium Marketing, Century Strategies, David Koch, Art Pope, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, Jack Abramoff

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Conservative blogger and commentator Michelle Malkin, on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” calls the “tea party movement” opposing taxes and health care reform “counterinsurgencies.” Malkin says there is a growing “tea party movement—these counterinsurgencies amongst taxpayer rights groups,” that is fomenting opposition to health care reform. She claims that these “counterinsurgencies” will escalate their confrontation behaviors in what she calls “town halls-gone-wild.” And, Malkin says, the “counterinsurgents” are members of true “grassroots” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009). [Think Progress, 8/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Michelle Malkin

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Conservatives for Patients’ Rights logo.Conservatives for Patients’ Rights logo. [Source: Conservatives for Patients? Rights]An organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR) publicly takes credit for orchestrating the disruptive and sometimes-violent protests against the White House’s health care reform proposals (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent says the admission “rais[es] questions about [the protests’] spontaneity.” CPR is headed by Rick Scott, a former health industry CEO who once ran Columbia/HCA before being ousted for malfeasance in 1997. (Columbia/HCA subsequently paid the US government $1.7 billion dollars in fines due to fraud that occured during Scott’s tenure.) Scott, who was once a part owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush, now owns an investment firm that primarily traffics in health care, and owns a chain of Florida urgent care clinics called Solantic. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009] (Solantic also boasts former Bush administration official Thomas Scully as a member of its board. In 2004, Scully deliberately withheld information from Congress that the Bush administration’s Medicare reforms would cost $200 billion more than acknowledged.) [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
Contracting with 'Swift Boat' PR Firm - Scott is spending millions on CPR’s public relations effort, and has contracted with CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the “swift boat” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. He is also coordinating his efforts with Grover Norquist, the conservative advocate and influential Washington insider. CPR spokesman Brian Burgess confirms that CPR is e-mailing “town hall alert” flyers and schedules of town hall meetings to its mailing list. CPR is also actively recruiting members for the “tea party,” a loosely organized group of conservative protesters (see April 8, 2009). Scott says, “We have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into educating Americans over the past several months about the dangers of government-run health care and I think we’re seeing some of the fruits of that campaign.” Doug Thornell, a House Democratic staff member, says: “The more you dig the more you learn that this is a carefully orchestrated effort by special interest lobbyists and the Republican Party, who are using fringe elements on the right to protect insurance company profits and defeat health care reform. The anger at these events looks very similar to what we saw at McCain/Palin rallies in the fall.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009]
Group Interested in Protecting Industry Profits, Critics Say - Richard Kirsch of Health Care for America Now, a pro-reform group, says of Scott: “Those attacking reform are really looking to protect their own profits, and he’s a perfect messenger for that. His history of making a fortune by destroying quality in the health care system and ripping off the government is a great example of what’s really going on.” CPR plans on spending over $1 million a month in anti-reform television and radio ads. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009] White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, learning of CPR’s admission, says the organization is led by a “CEO that used to run a health care company that was fined by the federal government $1.7 billion for fraud. I think that’s a lot of what you need to know about the motives of that group.” Scott retorts, “It is a shame that Mr. Gibbs chooses to dismiss these Americans and their very real concerns, instead opting to level personal attacks.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, Doug Thornell, Columbia/HCA, CRC Public Relations, Brian Burgess, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, Solantic, Thomas A. Scully, Rick Scott, Richard Kirsch, Obama administration, Robert Gibbs, Grover Norquist, Republican Party, Medicare

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Grover Norquist, the highly influential leader of the conservative activist group Americans for Tax Reform, acknowledges that his group, along with Americans for Prosperity and the National Conservative Union among others, has encouraged its members to attend town hall meetings to protest health care reform proposals (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Norquist also admits that his organization provides talking points, suggested questions to ask, and slogans to chant at the meetings. However, he says his group does not endorse the raucous, sometimes riotous discussions that are taking place. “The more civilly you ask the question, the more powerful it is,” he says. “Nobody says go and scream. That’s the least effective thing you can do.” But a former Republican aide notes, “If you are going to town-hall, you understand the potential pitfalls.” [Roll Call, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: National Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, Americans for Prosperity

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

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