News & Politics

Ocasio-Cortez Slams Tea Party for Koch Funding, 'White Supremacy'

Ocasio-Cortez Slams Tea Party for Koch Funding, 'White Supremacy'
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congressional candidate from New York, waves during a rally, Friday, July 20, 2018, in Wichita, Kan. (Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

On Friday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) responded to claims that her political movement is a “tea party of the left.” She acknowledged one similarity, but argued that the tea party was racist and funded by the Koch brothers, while her movement is a genuine expression of the people’s will, without any hint of corruption.

“The grounding of the tea party was xenophobia, the underpinnings of white supremacy, but, you know, I understand politically, when people say ‘tea party of the left,’ because I am a progressive Democrat that won in a primary election and ousted the fourth most powerful person in the Democratic Party,” Ocasio-Cortez said on MSNBC.

“I understand why people would say ‘tea party of the left.’ The exception is that my district is overwhelmingly progressive and our representative was not representing our actual positions. So this is not a tea party of the left, this is a return to American representative democracy,” she added.

Finally, Ocasio-Cortez pointed out one “really big” difference: “The Koch brothers funded the tea party and everyday people funded my campaign,” she said.

I witnessed the tea party in action, and I helped conservative tea party Republicans challenge establishment Republicans, so I can tell you there is no truth to what Ocasio-Cortez is peddling here.

First, the tea party was absolutely a “return to American representative democracy.” Just as in Ocasio-Cortez’s district, Republicans in Congress had abandoned the values of their party, and conservative challengers defeated them in primaries. Ocasio-Cortez seems utterly blind to the fact that established politicians in both parties have betrayed the values of their bases. Hers is not the only — or even the first — populist movement focused on ideological purity.

Second, the tea party may have had the occasional xenophobic moment, but the closest it came to racism involved t-shirts mocking President Barack Obama. Contrary to the popular liberal narrative, the tea party had more to do with opposing Obama’s policies than opposing him because he is black.

Tea party Republicans called for a return to free markets, limited government, and the Constitution. It ran hand-in-hand with Originalist readings of the Constitution and calls to balance the federal budget. Leaders called for cuts to entitlement programs because those unfunded liabilities represent the majority of federal government spending.

Third, Ocasio-Cortez mentioned the funding of Charles and David Koch as if it were proof of some sort of corruption. In fact, the Koch brothers are ideologically pure libertarians. They funded many organizations affiliated with the tea party — like Americans for Prosperity — because those groups represented their values, just like Ocasio-Cortez claims to represent the progressive values of her district.

I raised money for tea party Republican challengers for the exact same reason. These establishment Republicans betrayed the values they claimed to represent, time and time again. The tea party demanded conservative ideological purity because a return to limited government would unleash America’s economy and make life better for everyone.

Finally, Ocasio-Cortez claims to have no hint of corruption. “The Koch brothers funded the tea party and everyday people funded my campaign,” she said.

Strictly speaking, the funding talking point is true. However, her campaign hugely benefitted from the efforts of a Silicon Valley player Saikat Chakrabarti. His organization Brand New Congress “facilitates campaigns on shoestring budgets by providing aa single clearinghouse for campaign services, generally filed under the banner of ‘strategic consulting’. But, as a result, it limits the meaningfulness of FEC disclosures by those campaigns,” Luke Thompson, a podcast host and former staffer for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), wrote in an article about Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign.

Chakrabarti’s organization “spends most of its budget on overhead and makes relatively few actual contributions to candidates.” The group can make donations to candidates that are publicly disclosed, but it also “provides campaign services to candidates to help lower the barriers to entry.” Since Brand New Congress LLC is a private company, it does not have to disclose spending to the FEC.

According to Brand New Congress’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page, “this LLC gets hired by candidates and by the PACs to actually run campaigns.” The group does this in order to “recruit and run non-career politicians” and “to run a big, single unified campaign” so as to “take advantage of various economies of scale.”

Not only did Brand New Congress work on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign — and make two suspicious payments to her live-in boyfriend right when her campaign was financially in the hole — but Chakrabarti became Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff.

Brand New Congress’s efforts to run campaigns are not, strictly speaking, illegal. This business model does open the door to corruption, however.

In reality, Chakrabarti likely just really believes in Ocasio-Cortez’s vision, and Brand New Congress seems to have been founded with the goal of electing someone just like her and creating a “tea party of the left.”

The Koch brothers do something extremely similar, but they publicly disclose their donations and they don’t effectively run campaigns. Ironically, the Koch brothers are far less shady than the organization that was central to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign.

Contrary to her protestations, the Green New Deal creator’s movement is exactly like the tea party and accurately dubbed the “tea party of the left.” There should be no shame in this label. Just like Ocasio-Cortez pushes Democrats further to the left, the tea party attempted to make Republicans more true to the conservatism behind the GOP. While the tea party attempted to return to America’s Constitution and limited government, however, Ocasio-Cortez openly supports Democratic socialism, an ideology fundamentally at odds with the engine of America’s prosperity and freedom.

While the tea party’s ultimate success would return America to the founders’ vision and unleash liberty and prosperity, Ocasio-Cortez’s ultimate success would drag America down to poverty and tyranny. Just ask Venezuela.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.