fresh voices from the front lines of change







Amy Walter has the bad news for Republicans:

As the GOP leadership in the House struggles to unite its fractious members around a deal to avoid a government shutdown or a default on the nation’s debt, polling from Pew out this week shows why that may be harder than ever.

Tea Party Republicans, Pew found, are much more disillusioned with their party leadership than they have been since they came to D.C. in 2011.

"The job rating of GOP leaders among Tea Party Republicans has fallen 15 points since February, from 42% to 27%. Disapproval has risen from 54% to 71% over this period,” said the Pew summary. “There has been no similar decline among Republicans who do not agree with the Tea Party. "

In fact, among Tea Party Republicans approval ratings of the GOP leaders has steadily declined since December of 2011. Meanwhile, those who do not identify with the Tea Party have been gradually warming to the leadership. Support among these "traditional" Republicans for the GOP leadership has gone up to 42 percent from 38 percent in December 2011.

Even with their outsized influence, Tea Party Republicans are not a majority of the GOP. Nor are they particularly popular among those who identify themselves as Republicans. An earlier Pew poll found that while the vast majority of Republicans (60%) say they disagree with the Tea Party, almost half of Republican primary voters (49%) say they agree with the Tea Party values.

In other words, the GOP primary electorate is already more inclined to support a Tea Party candidate. Now, that electorate is shaping up to be as anti-establishment and anti-incumbent as ever. The more closely identified a Republican incumbent with the Republican leadership, the more vulnerable he/she becomes in a GOP primary.

And, this makes the job of GOP leaders to cobble a deal on a CR or the debt ceiling that much more difficult. Republican incumbents are already skittish about the possibility of losing their seats to Tea Party conservatives in a primary. This only confirms their fears.

Of course the Tea Partiers are a blight on American politics. But it's important to remember that it's because so many of their views on how government should be run are heinous, not because they are exercising their clout as engaged political citizens. They are completely within their rights to organize as a faction of one of the two parties and do whatever they can to enact their agenda. That's democracy under our system. The Republican Party that nurtured and enabled these toxic political attitudes over decades is responsible for this faction and they are going to have to find a way to accommodate or change them now that they are causing so many problems.

Frankly, I'm more concerned about this:

A single nonprofit group with ties to Charles G. and David H. Koch provided grants of $236 million to conservative organizations before the 2012 election, according to tax returns the group is expected to file Monday, underscoring the broad reach of the political movement the two business executives and their advisers have built in recent years.

Freedom Partners, as the group is now known, is playing a bigger role for the Kochs as the brothers seek a tighter rein over the advocacy groups and political organizations that their donor network finances and expand their involvement in Republican political causes.

The group, formerly known as the Association for American Innovation, functions as a clearinghouse for money and message strategy. Like other such groups on the right and left, Freedom Partners raises money from donors and then distributes it to other groups — most of them other nonprofits that mix issue advocacy and election advertising — to spend.

The arrangement gives the donors an extra layer of anonymity and blurs the original source of money that fuels controversial campaigns.

The scale of Freedom Partners’ fund-raising is striking: It raised $256 million between November 2011 and last year’s election, according to the returns, details of which were reported on Thursday by Politico. That rivals or exceeds the annual budgets of the largest advocacy groups in the nation, like the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But the returns also reflect a significant shift in the tax strategies the Koch operation deploys to avoid challenge from the Internal Revenue Service, which limits how much nonprofit groups can spend to aid or defeat candidates.

Other donor clearinghouses, along with nearly all of the political groups they support, register with the I.R.S. as “social welfare” groups under Section 501(c)4 of the tax code. That has let such groups spend money on elections while keeping their donors secret — drawing increasing regulatory and legislative scrutiny from critics who assert that some of the groups are violating campaign laws.

But Freedom Partners established itself in November 2011 as a 501(c)6 “business league,” typically a trade association of corporations, like the Chamber of Commerce, organized to promote a common business interest. Instead of donors, it has more than 200 “members,” each making a minimum $100,000 contribution, which Freedom Partners classifies as member dues. The approach gives it many of the same advantages social welfare groups have, with one significant addition: Some contributions to the group may be tax-deductible as business expenses.


Now it's true that many of the tea party groups are benefiting from Koch money, but their strength really does come from their engaged activist base that votes in low turnout elections and pushes their agenda on all levels of government. (Progressives could learn something from them in that regard.) But unlike these average citizens exercising their right to vote, the Big Money influence of people like the Kochs and the Adelsons is truly antithetical to American democracy and it's at the root of our biggest problems.

And the funny thing is that if you can get beyond their indoctrination that government (and atheists/feminists/welfare queens of course) are their greatest enemies, the average Tea Partier could probably be fairly easily convinced of that as well. Most of them know very well that the rich are not their biggest fans either. In fact, this rift between the "regular Republicans" and the Tea Party is likely to make that quite obvious over the next few years. It should be interesting to see how that plays out.

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