A surge of populism swept the Republican party in the 2008 elections, rallying for fiscal responsibility and lower taxes, and against the moneyed interests that rule Washington. It was made up of everyday Americans, rallying under the name Tea Party. There was no single leader, and it was not organized by the GOP; instead, its legitimacy came from being grassroots. But big political money can creep into any movement, as powerful individuals push their own agendas. It’s the very same political corruption the Represent.Us campaign is working to defeat.
While there’s no official Tea Party political party, there are big organizations that claim to represent it. None is bigger than FreedomWorks, a Super-PAC created by the billionaire Koch brothers (with some old-school GOP advisors like Dick Armey and Jack Kemp). Those ties hint that FreedomWorks might not be so grassroots after all. But its 2012 tax returns are even clearer: of a $41 million budget in 2012, 88% came from large donations. The lion’s share of those big gifts came from just 141 rich donors, who each gave $10,000 or more. Top among those donors is one man, Richard Stephenson, who donated 30% of FreedomWorks’s budget, with an amazing gift of $12 million. Meanwhile, small donations were just 12% of the PAC’s budget.
12% populist doesn’t sound very populist, does it? But with the campaign spending laws we have now, there’s no limit to what people like Stephenson can give. He’s a perfect example of why big moneyed interests, with their own Super-PAC, will always speak louder than the ordinary Americans who support a real grassroots movement. Think we should change those rules, and maybe let the people speak for themselves? That’s what the Represent.Us campaign is doing.