Revealed: Big Tobacco Invented the Tea Party!


Tobacco Control

Did you know that Big Tobacco invented the Tea Party movement? So claims Brendan DeMelle in a recent Huffington Post piece headlined "Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaire Koch Brothers." Said study, published by the journal Tobacco Control, is more carefully worded. Anti-smoking activist Stanton Glantz and his co-authors even concede, deep into the article, that "many factors beyond the tobacco industry have contributed to the development of the Tea Party." (For instance, "the Tea Party has origins in the ultra-right John Birch Society of the 1950s.") But DeMelle's headline accurately reflects the general thrust of Glantz et al.'s article, which features a diagram of nefarious links that seems to have been inspired by Glenn Beck (or maybe Thom Hartmann). "Rather than being purely a grassroots movement," Glantz et al. write, "the Tea Party has been influenced by decades of astroturfing by tobacco and other corporate interests to develop a grassroots network to support their corporate agendas, even though their members may not support those agendas." Co-author Amanda Fallin goes further in a press release, saying, "The records indicate that the Tea Party has been shaped by the tobacco industry and is not a spontaneous grassroots movement at all."

The main evidence for this thesis is that Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), a think tank co-founded by libertarian billionaire David Koch and economist Richard Fink in 1984, received donations from tobacco companies (mainly Philip Morris) between 1991 and 2002. A year or two later, CSE split into two organizations, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, that have helped support and organize Tea Party activists. How much tobacco money did CSE get? According to Glantz et al., $5.3 million over 12 years, which amounts to roughly 11 percent of CSE's revenue as of 2002. That's a substantial share, but was it enough to corrupt "a think tank dedicated to free market economics" and backed by an ideologically motivated billionaire? Glantz et al. show that CSE saw eye to eye with Philip Morris on issues such as tobacco taxes and smoking bans, which presumably is why the company supported it. But they do not present any evidence that CSE took positions contrary to its avowed principles because it was eager to keep the tobacco money flowing. Nor do they claim that FreedomWorks or Americans for Prosperity, the groups that have aligned themselves with the Tea Party, receive substantial tobacco industry funding, let alone that such money is important enough to sway the entire Tea Party movement. Instead they resort to this sort of insinuation:

As of 2012, AFP and FreedomWorks were continuing to support the tobacco industry's broad policy agenda…including opposing the EPA and health care reform. These organisations have been fighting state tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws since at least 2006….

Echoing well-established tobacco industry arguments and the patriotic rhetoric of the [industry-backed] smokers' rights groups, they argued for private property rights, consumer choice and limited government.

According to Glantz et al., then, supporting private property rights, consumer choice, and limited government makes you objectively pro-tobacco, whether or not you are getting any money from cigarette manufacturers. After all, those are "well-established industry arguments." Likewise, if you oppose ObamaCare, you are doing the bidding of Big Tobacco, even if you don't realize it. 

If these positions are so clearly indefensible, why does the money matter? "It is important for policy-makers to be aware of the corporate funding sources for organisations that work to influence public policy," Glantz et al. write. "It is important for policy-makers,the health community and people who support the Tea Party to be aware of these complex and often hard-to-track linkages." But they never really explain why. Surely it is possible to judge arguments and evidence on their own merits, without reference to the alleged financial interests of the people offering them.

But rather than respond with arguments and evidence of his own, Glantz seeks to discredit his opponents by implying that they do not really believe what they are saying, that they are only in it for the money. "It is important for tobacco control advocates to anticipate and counter Tea Party opposition to tobacco control policies," Glantz and his co-authors write, "and to ensure that policy makers, the media and the public understand the longstanding intersection between the tobacco industry and the Tea Party policy agenda." In other words, if you don't have logic and facts on your side, smear your opponents as Big Tobacco shills or dupes.

The best part: This political hatchet job masquerading as science was funded by taxpayers like you, via the National Cancer Institute, whose mission apparently now includes agitating against the president's critics.

Disclosure: David Koch is a trustee of the Reason Foundation, which publishes Reason magazine and this website. In the 1990s the foundation received donations from Philip Morris, which also bought ads in the magazine; the total revenue amounted to less than 1 percent of the foundation's budget. See how it all fits together?

Update: Al Gore endorses the theory that the Tea Party is a tobacco product, while transforming Stanton Glantz and his friends into a federal agency:

A new study by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Medicine reveals that the Tea Party Movement was planned over a decade ago by groups with ties to the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. The movement was not a spontaneous populist uprising, but rather a long-term strategy to promote the anti-science, anti-government agenda of powerful corporate interests.

Given Gore's own financial ties to cigarette manufacturers, it seems equally reasonable to conclude that he was invented by Big Tobacco.

[Thanks to Hans Bader for the tip.]