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Who’s picking up the tab for the tea party?

The tea party movement may have genuine grassroots. But just beneath the surface are professional fund-raisers, foundations, and political action committees – some of which have been around for years – pushing a conservative-libertarian agenda.

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Demonstrators carry signs during a march by supporters of the conservative tea party movement in Washington on September 12, 2010. Several thousand people gathered for the march from the Washington Monument to the US Capitol.

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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, tea party gatherings are the grassroots real deal. Organic, earnest groundswells of populist sentiment and full-throated political expression that have upset the political establishment left and right. Effective too, as they beat mainstream candidates from Delaware to Nevada to Alaska.

But just beneath the surface are professional fund-raisers, foundations, and political action committees – some of which have been around for years – pushing an agenda that neatly matches the conservative/libertarian aims of most tea partyers.

You can tell its effectiveness by the rhetoric of the opposition from across the political spectrum.

In Pictures: Tea Parties

Karl Rove (initially, at least) dissing tea party favorite Christine O’Donnell in her upset win in Delaware’s Republican senate primary. President Obama indirectly criticizing the insurgency’s well-funded lobbying in speeches to the Democratic faithful warning of the impact of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision easing restrictions on how corporations may influence federal elections.

Changes in campaign finance law and the aims of the tea party movement converge in a mutually-supportive way.

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