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Tea Party's Grass Roots Watered By Deep Pockets From Above

As the Tea Party movement has loomed ever larger on the U.S. political scene, increasing attention has been paid to where the money flowing into the movement is coming from.

There was New Yorker writer Jane Mayer's recent opus about the quiet money links between billionaire Koch brothers and the Tea Party movement. That controversial piece has gotten a lot of attention and some push back from one of its main subjects, David Koch

The Kochs made much of their money in the oil industry and as Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep discussed with Dave Levinthal, editor of the OpenSecretsblog for the Center for Responsive Politics, that's just one establishment source of the money for what many view as an anti-establishment movement.

Not that the grassroots participation isn't real. It is. The Tea Party has tens of thousands of real people who are angry about the country's direction. Of that there is no doubt.

But that doesn't mean that there aren't rich conservatives and corporate types who aren't trying to harness this energy to their own ends which, they just happen to believe, would be good for the country, too.

LEVINTHAL: Arguably, there are some groups out there who have co-opted this energy. One would be the Tea Party Express. It's an organization that has largely been criticized by even some of the more grassroots organizations as being run by political operatives, run by Republicans.

STEVE: What is it? Is it an office somewhere? Is it an organization?

LEVINTHAL: It's an organization out of California. But at the end of the day, this is a group that has come into a number of key Senate races throughout this country and dumped in, poured in hundreds of thousands of in some cases in a very, very short period of time in favor of a candidate they wanted to win.

STEVE: And where do they get their money?

LEVINTHAL: They get their money from a variety of sources. A lot of individuals, some institutional support, but they have received a ton of it...

Levinthal also mentioned the Tea Party Caucus on Capitol Hill, a group of lawmakers who are trying to tap into the populist energy.

LEVINTHAL: We actually did a study to see where they're getting their money from. They're receiving the bulk of their money, or at least the most amount of their money from retirees, from health professionals, and also people who are involved in the financial industries. The oil and gas industries.

STEVE: Excuse me. You just said health professionals are giving a lot of money to candidates in the Tea Party Caucus?

LEVINTHAL: Absolutely. Individuals who...

STEVE: This is a movement that was fueled by anger at the health care law and people in the health care industry are financing the Tea Party caucus?

It certainly shocked us when we found that out too.

I wonder if there's been reaction within Tea Party activists themselves to realize that people who are taking on their banner are funded by people in the health care industry and oil industry.

This goes back to the notion that there maybe are some people out there who are trying to co-opt the Tea Party movement, the energy, the grass-roots nature of this movement and use it at a very high level in politics for their purposes...

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