The battle for FreedomWorks
Mother Jones, a left wing magazine, has been reporting on a feud at FreedomWorks between former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the chairman of FreedomWorks, and his allies on one side, and FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe and his supporters on the other. Kibbe and Armey co-wrote Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto in 2010. Armey's resignation from FreedomWorks was announced in early December. Stacy McCain has the story and the links.
Reports say that Armey attempted to get Kibbe removed but that the board encouraged Armey to leave with a reported payout of $8 million.
FreedomWorks was arguing for Tea Party ideals for many years before the Tea Party came into existence in 2008. The group has positioned itself as a servant to the Tea Party movement, providing training, research, and networking to help Americans turn their concern about Washington's fiscal insanity into effective grassroots action.
FreedomWorks has been an effective watchdog, helping to vet candidates by digging deep into their records on fiscal issues, calling attention to the Romney campaign's power grab at the 2012 Republican National Convention rules committee, critiquing the Boehner debt plan and facilitating the grassroots development of an alternative. FreedomWorks VP for health care policy Dean Clancy provided the rationale for states to exercise their prerogative not to set up an Obamacare state exchange.
I have gotten to know FreedomWorks mainly through a series of BlogCons -- informative workshops for bloggers. I marched with Dick Armey at the 2010 March on Washington and enjoyed the hospitality of the Kibbes at a post-march gathering at their home. I've had the pleasure of getting to know some of their great staffers, analysts like Dean Clancy, and organizers like Tabitha Hale (now with the Franklin Center), Sarah Desprat (now with Twitchy), and Kristina Ribali. FreedomWorks has made it possible for me to meet and get to know fellow bloggers from coast to coast. So it's worrisome to hear reports of turmoil.
The dispute, as I understand it, centers around this question: Should FreedomWorks judge every politician by their free-market principles, praising when possible, castigating when necessary, without regard to the politician's party affiliation or political connections? Or should FreedomWorks be pragmatic, take it a bit easier on old friends who wield power at the Capitol, even when they oppose us on our key issues? The former view seems to be held by Kibbe and his allies; the latter by Armey and his supporters.
A few reactions:
1. Why aren't the two factions working with their friends in the blogosphere and legacy media to get their side of the story out? Why is Dick Armey telling his story to a far-left magazine, rather than American Spectator? Why haven't Matt Kibbe and FreedomWorks communicated with the many bloggers who attended one or more BlogCons?
2. Back in 2010, I was surprised to learn that Armey was involved with FreedomWorks, particularly with their emphasis on holding elected officials accountable, even the Republicans. Armey won a seat in Congress in 1984 as an economics professor and came to Washington as a reformer and an outsider, but a decade in Washington changed him. Armey gets much of the blame for the failure of the 1997 attempt by Tom Coburn, Steve Largent, and others to oust Newt Gingrich as speaker. The coup and Armey's double-cross is described in detail by Coburn in his book Breach of Trust. In light of that history, I found many of Armey's statements in Give Us Liberty highly ironic. If the reported reasons behind the FreedomWorks dispute are true, I can't say I'm surprised about Armey's departure.
3. If someone can come up with $8 million to pay someone to go away, why doesn't there seem to be money in the conservative movement to sustain the conservative voice in new media and legacy media?
MORE: Since writing this, I've found a couple of right-of-center sources that covered this dispute back at the beginning of December: The Blaze had a story on December 4, mainly regarding the nature of the payment to Armey -- from a private party, not from FreedomWorks or its affiliates. A search for blog entries about this dispute mainly turns up items on left-wing blogs. The same day, Ace of Spades HQ had an item linking to the initial story in Mother Jones.
Armey was willing to go in and try to take charge, but was willing to give up the fight for money and then run off to a left-wing publication to tell his side of the story.
If Dick Armey and his friends are concerned about "harm" "done to the movement," perhaps they should not be willingly talking to a left-wing publication that has been pretty clearly looking to harm the conservative movement and bring down conservative groups.
UPDATE 2013/01/03: Blogger Rusty Weiss notes the attempted intervention of Armey and his allies on the board in support of establishment GOP candidates -- for example, Orrin Hatch, whom FreedomWorks attempted to defeat in the nomination process. Weiss notes the irony that Armey had, in April 2012, signed a letter with Kibbe and Armey ally C. Boyden Gray opposing David and Charles Koch's efforts to gain control over the Cato Institute, as it would harm Cato's credibility and "undermine our community's intellectual defenses."
UPDATE 2013/01/09: Dick Armey tells the Daily Caller he thought he was talking to Media Resource Center (a conservative group that documents left-wing bias in media, headed by L. Brent Bozell), not Media Matters (a left-wing, George Soros-funded group headed by David Brock).
And here's the leaked packet from FreedomWorks December 2012 board meeting, containing budget and financial reports and other statistics, shows a tremendous growth both in donations and in number of people engaged with FreedomWorks in some way. By every measure, 2012 was a wildly successful year for FreedomWorks.
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