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Michele Bachmann and David Koch: Strange Bedfellows

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There he is again in today's New York Times Styles section, beaming with his younger wife Julia at a party celebrating his $100 million donation to the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, home to City Opera and the New York City Ballet -- in exchange for which his name appears on the building. The photos are all smiles, black-tie and bad fur. It's David Koch, the increasingly ubiquitous billionaire, who with a $16 billion inherited fortune is the 9th richest American, according to Forbes.

There she is again, beaming in front of the cameras last week, the malaprop-spouting Minnesota Republican who led thousands of angry tea-bag marchers on the steps of the nation's Capitol to protest health care reform. It's Michele Bachmann, whose very name brings smiles to the faces of progressives everywhere for her laughably over-the-top brand of modern conservatism. (With her usual aplomb, she recently accused Bob Dole of being "non pro-freedom" for having the temerity to say that "something" has to be done about the current health care crisis.)

What does David Koch, the second richest man in New York, have to do with Michele Bachmann, the controversial mid-Western Congresswoman?

On the surface, not much. But the panicked fear of health care reform is enough to give birth to some pretty strange bedfellows. You see, Bachmann's "Super Bowl of Freedom" rally was far from the spontaneous uprising of frustrated, not-gonna-take-it-anymore Americans she'd like you to think it was. Instead it was part of a well-funded, faux-grassroots ("astroturf") movement funded by Americans For Prosperity (AFP), whose founder and chief backer is ... David Koch.

As Think Progress reported, AFP provided 40 free buses for right-wingers to attend the rally. So much for the idea that protesters were so impassioned they were willing to trek to DC on their own dime to voice their discontent.

Think Progress elaborates on Koch's history of undermining consumer protections, health care reform and the environment:

"David Koch's AFP has a long history of marshaling "grassroots" support for GOP objectives. In the early 1990s, AFP, then known as Citizens for a Sound Economy, worked secretly with then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) to organize angry crowds following the Clintons as they touted their health reform bill. Industry money from health insurance, telecommunications, oil, and other companies has flowed freely to AFP over the years to help AFP promote an agenda of boosting the rich, stripping consumer safeguards, and maintaining corporate monopolies. Phillip Morris rented out AFP from the Koch family, contributing millions to the organization in exchange for AFP to build opposition to tobacco regulations."

AFP's corporate agenda is clear. But its ties to Bachmann's rally were less obvious and drive a stake through her claim that she represents "the voice of the American people."

The protest was a sordid affair, with signs comparing health care reform to the Holocaust and accusing Obama of taking "orders from the Rothchilds [sic]" -- language so offensive that even Elie Weisel felt the need to step in, calling it "indecent and disgusting."

Unseemly or not, Bachmann got what she wanted. She would rightfully assume that the mainstream media would fail to examine her ties to corporate front groups like AFP. And she would have her moment in the sun in front of thousands of admirers (if far short of the 20,000 or so reported by the right-wing media). Bachmann would cap it off with the fawning Fox News media coverage she craved. After all, this was her moment -- besides "Kill the bill!", " We Want Michele!" was the cry of the day.

It remains to be seen if David Koch got what he wanted. After all, it's hard to fathom what his goals really are; he's certainly not public about them. Why would someone so rich would work so hard to ensure that efforts to help get health coverage for the millions of uninsured in this country go nowhere? As someone who suffered his own terrifying cancer scare, you'd think Koch might be more compassionate towards those without his means for seeking treatment.

I'm sure we'll be seeing more of Koch and his wife: on top of the Lincoln Center donation, they recently pledged $15 million to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in DC -- for which the building will, of course, be named in his honor. So, it's clear the Kochs are on a (new?) money-fueled social tear. And they are not going anywhere. But next time you see their smiling faces in glitzy party pix or happen to find yourself in one of their sparkling new buildings, know that there's more to them than meets the eye.

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