Michele Bachmann’s Astroturfing Teabaggers: A Rally for NO Solution

In what Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called the “Superbowl of Freedom,” several thousand right-wing activists chanting “kill the bill!” descended on the West Lawn of the Capitol yesterday to protest health care reform. The event was organized by Bachmann and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) — the billionaire-funded astroturf machine– and endorsed by GOP lawmakers. With promotional help from Fox News and conservative radio, organizers called the event “an emergency house call on Congress,” to stop heath care reform. Bachmann urged her followers to “scare” members of Congress, saying, “Nothing scares members of Congress more than freedom-loving Americans.”

While conservatives touted a crowd size of up to a million protesters, Capitol Police estimated the crowd was more likely around 4,000.   AFP, the corporate front-group founded in the 1980s by Koch Industries billionaire David Koch, worked closely with Bachmann to orchestrate the anti-health reform rally, encouraging right-wing activists to board their buses free of charge.

Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) praised the protesters for arriving at the Capitol without any assistance, but AFP’s own staffers told The Progress Report that their group sent about 40 buses. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a key promoter of the event, praised AFP for chartering the buses, saying it’s “as if Paul Revere had ridden across America.” The Progress Report found at least a dozen AFP staffers standing at their designated bus drop off point near the Capitol, handing out signs, directions, talking points, petitions, and donuts to protesters. AFP’s daily activities are managed by Tim Phillips, an infamous astroturf lobbyist who built a career using Christian front groups to wage stealth campaigns. For example, his work includes fighting under the radar includes fighting to promote energy deregulation for Enron and helping notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s clients. AFP and Freedom Works have been instrumental in orchestrating dozens of anti-Obama tea parties and town hall disruptions. The Tea Party Patriots’ listserv is managed by FreedomWorks staffer Tom Gaitens.

Yesterday’s “HouseCall” represented the GOP’s strongest endorsement yet of Tea Party activism. The Tea Partiers have branded themselves as anti-government independents and many in the GOP have kept their distance thus far. But unlike the much larger 9/12 protests, which were chiefly promoted by Fox News personality Glenn Beck, elected Republican officials were the biggest cheerleaders for yesterday’s rally. As MSNBC’s Domenico Montanaro notes, “While other groups certainly got people to show up, the folks who came here ultimately came at the invitation of the Republican Party.” In addition to “endless lineup of rank-and-file lawmakers and conservative All Stars” — there were at least 60 GOP lawmakers on the stage

Asked about the protest during his daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “There is a rally going on without a solution on their side.” Indeed, the recently released GOP alternative bill does little to address the problems facing the American health care system. The Congressional Budget Office found that the GOP bill would only insure about 3 million Americans, leaving 52 million without coverage while doing nothing to prevent discrimination for people with pre-existing conditions, as Boehner himself admitted.

That’s the party of “NO!” for you.  In other news, the Democrats are predicting the health care bill will pass this weekend.   Way to go, GOP!

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