Critics Slam Taxpayer-Funded Political Attack

National Cancer Institute funds study calling Tea Party tobacco-funded AstroTurf

February 15, 2013

Critics of a new study on the Tea Party movement that was funded by a federal agency are lashing out at what they see as improper taxpayer funding for academic work with an overtly political message.

The study in question purports to show that the Tea Party movement was created by and works to advance the interests of the tobacco industry.

Its critics have rejected the study’s findings and expressed particular concern that taxpayer funds were used to support "politically motivated attacks," in the words of one Tea Party-aligned congressman.

The study, conducted by three academics at the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, claims that the Tea Party was actually created in the 1990s by conservative groups fighting anti-tobacco policies with money they had received from tobacco companies.

"Rather than being purely a grassroots movement, 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," the study states.

The study says it "was funded by [two] National Cancer Institute grants." The NCI is a division of the National Institutes of Health, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Tea party sympathizer or not, liberal or conservative, every taxpayer should be outraged that their money is used to editorialize on the politics of the day," Rep. Tim Huelskamp, (R., Kan.), a member of the House Tea Party caucus, said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.

"Instead of spending money to research cancer—as the National Cancer Institute is supposed to do—they are engaged in politically-motivated attacks on Americans engaged in the political process," Huelskamp added.

The NCI told the Washington Free Beacon it "played no role in the selection of the research topic, conduct of the research or preparation of the manuscript."

The study’s primary author, UCSF's American Legacy Foundation Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control Stanton Glantz, defended its federal backing, saying his efforts were within the NIC’s mission.

"If you want to control cancer, you have to control smoking—and if you want to control smoking, you have to understand how the tobacco companies operate," Glantz told Fox News.

The American Legacy Foundation, which endows Professor Glantz's chair, was created with tobacco money as part of a 1998 court settlement between major tobacco companies and 46 state attorneys general.

The study was quickly picked up by left-wing blogs that said it proved the Tea Party movement was "AstroTurf" manufactured by a cabal of conservative and libertarian billionaires using tobacco dollars.

The study says the group Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), a free market think tank that dissolved in 2004, splitting into two groups: FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, is evidence of the big tobacco conspiracy.

CSE, the study claims, received about $5.3 million in contributions from tobacco companies during its existence.

The study does not claim tobacco companies continued directly to fund FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, however. It does state that FreedomWorks participated in a coalition opposed to smoking restrictions that received contributions from tobacco companies.

FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity did not return requests for comment.

Glantz defended his conclusions, noting significant staff overlap between CSE and its two descendent organizations, in an interview with the Free Beacon.

"I don’t think anyone’s saying that nothing changed" after CSE’s 2004 split, he said. "But the fundamental relationships have remained the same."

Critics outside Congress questioned Glantz’s attempts to draw connections between CSE and the contemporary Tea Party.

"The study is based on strange reasoning, such as the fact that [CSE] used the word ‘Tea Party’ in passing in 2002, a group largely unrelated to the groups that later came into being and used it in 2009," said Hans Bader, counsel for special projects at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, on the Open Market website.