It is the stuff of Hollywood.
A political organization experiences a “hostile” takeover by its own chairman, in which two top employees are physically escorted from the building, others are suspended on-site, and all of this is done with the helpful intimidation of a handgun carrying aide.
FreedomWorks, as the Washington Post reveals, a Washington based Tea Party organization, had experienced an epic battle this past September.
Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.
Six days later, Armey had been paid to go away, to the tune of $8 million, while the employees he had expelled returned. Armey would officially tender a letter of resignation in December, citing differences between his vision and the methods of operation being used by FreedomWorks president, Matt Kibbe. In the following days, Armey would imply that his departure was nothing more than concern for “the movement”.
Since then however, FreedomWorks has remained largely silent regarding the fallout, while Armey has seen fit to convey his side of the story to those willing to listen – namely, left-wing outfits who take pleasure in seeing such tumult occurring at the most influential Tea Party organization in Washington today.
Erick Erickson recently noted the odd choice for Armey’s airing of grievances:
This constant drip of stories about FreedomWorks is rather pathetic …
… What’s telling is that Team Armey is doing a lot of talking to Mother Jones — a far left magazine eager to destroy everyone on the right. Currently, they are engaged in tearing down FreedomWorks.
That Armey is complicit in this is sad.
If concern for “the movement” was Armey’s motivation, Erickson notes, then why walk away after an $8 million buyout, and further, why try to damage the group by providing fodder to liberal publications?
The reality is that Armey, by his actions and the actions of his cohorts on the board at FreedomWorks, is concerned about the movement – just not the conservative movement.
Mother Jones reports:
… board members C. Boyden Gray and James Burnley IV recently initiated a legal investigation of alleged wrongdoing at FreedomWorks and that Kibbe, in response, drafted a memo accusing Armey, Gray, and Burnley of mounting a “hostile takeover” of the group in order to make it part of the Republican establishment.
Indeed, the battle over FreedomWorks’ direction seems to be less a difference of opinion, and more a matter of the old guard Republicans trying to hijack a staunchly new line conservative movement.
Throughout the weeks and months leading up to the 2012 elections, FreedomWorks worked hard to support true conservative candidates, those most closely emulating Tea Party values. At the same time, Armey, Gray, and Burnley were openly opposing the group’s efforts, throwing their support behind establishment Republican candidates.
In May, FreedomWorks endorsed Rep. David Schweikert in a Republican primary contest against Rep. Ben Quayle. Kibbe had referred to Schweikert as a man willing to stand on principal, while he considered Quayle to be a reliable vote for the Republicans. Despite this endorsement, Gray was calling Kibbe, repeatedly questioning the group’s involvement in such a primary fight, and at the same time sending donations to Quayle’s campaign.
In another election year divide, FreedomWorks put a great deal of effort into ousting establishment Republican Senator, Orrin Hatch. Roll Call reports on the disagreement that again puts Gray on opposite sides with the group he serves:
Hatch last week earned backing from C. Boyden Gray, who served as White House counsel under President George. H.W. Bush and now sits on the board at FreedomWorks — which is actively working to upend Hatch’s re-election.
FreedomWorks rented a booth at last weekend’s state party convention that featured “Retire Hatch” signs. The group plans to run TV and radio ads in the state. It is already working at the grass-roots level to encourage its supporters to attend local caucuses next year and elect delegates to the convention who will vote out Hatch.
The other board member on the side of the establishment, James Burnley, also stuck his neck out to voice support for candidates that the group was actively trying to oppose. In a Florida primary race between Reps. John Mica and Tea Party freshman Sandy Adams, Burnley had called Kibbe to make it clear that “he had a dog in this race”.
Armey himself had actively lobbied FreedomWorks for support of his Republican “friends” – Wisconsin senatorial candidate Tommy Thompson, whom the group declined to support because of his advocacy for Obamacare, and Todd Akin in Missouri, whom the group declined to support even prior to the “legitimate rape” controversy.
Again, the Armey/Gray/Burnley triumvirate more concerned with their “dogs” or “friends” in the race, FreedomWorks was continuing to come under fire for their concern for the actual Tea Party freedom movement. Principle versus establishment cronyism.
With a chairman and board members clearly at odds with the group’s Tea Party mission, the battle within FreedomWorks could essentially serve as a microcosm of the conservative movement as a whole. There is continuing animosity between the old and new guards. A continuing battle. And a continuing effort to put Republican politics over conservative principals.
Ironically, in April of this past year, FreedomWorks condemned an effort by the Koch brothers to take over the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Charles and David Koch filed lawsuits in an attempt to expand their control over the group. In a statement of opposition authored by Armey, Gray, and Kibbe, the trio wrote: “It is clear that this hostile takeover bid, if successful, will do irreparable harm to the credibility of Cato, and equally important, will undermine our community’s intellectual defenses.”
Is Dick Armey trying to do the same thing now to FreedomWorks?