Via the Washington Post, Act I, The Coup:
The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.
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.
The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.
I'm imagining how bizarre that must have been. Dick Armey riding in on his high horse, with deputies at his side, yanking mutton-chopped Matt Kibbe and his sidekicks off their higher horses, only to have them remount and send him back to Texas with an $8 million stipend to soothe his ruffled feathers.
The crux of the conflict, it seems, is that Dick Armey understood that candidates must actually be electable, wingnut or otherwise. Kibbe, on the other hand, is a slave to purity and believed they should simply support the wingnut candidates against the more moderate Republicans no matter what the outcome.
Mother Jones has more of the details, as the feud got uglier, even post-Dick Armey buyout:
On December 12, James Burnley IV and C. Boyden Gray, two FreedomWorks board members (and allies of Armey), sent Kibbe a letter informing him that they had received "allegations of wrongdoing by the organization or its employees." They notified Kibbe that the group's board of trustees had retained two attorneys, Alfred Regnery and David Martin, to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations. Burnley and Gray ordered Kibbe to cooperate with the lawyers, to make sure no records were "destroyed, deleted, modified or otherwise tampered with," and to send Regnery a check for $25,000 to cover his initial fees.
This is clearly a battle between the New Republican Purity Trolls and the Old Guard. Burnley, Gray and Regnery are old-timers from the Reagan days. Regnery is the publisher that churns out wingnut books by the bushel for any old winger that bothers to write one. Gray goes back to the George HW Bush regime and plays a role in the Dubya presidency too. Burnley was Secretary of Transportation during Reagan's second term.
For his part, Kibbe put together a lengthy timeline of events leading up to the split, claiming that Armey had sold out the Tea Party for traditional party politics. Here's a little snippet:
On May 17th, 2012, FreedomWorks PAC endorses freshman Representative David Schweikert in his primary challenge against fellow freshman Quayle. Quayle had been a reliable vote for the Republican leadership, while Schweikert had been willing to stand on principle even under tremendous pressure from top brass. Over the course of this closely watched primary fight, FreedomWorks for America spent $18,500 on grassroots Get Out The Vote for Schweikert. C. Boyden Gray reached out to Matt Kibbe, President and CEO of FreedomWorks, in several phone calls that summer, wondering why we were engaged in this primary fight.
The Washington Post article explains a lot about why FreedomWorks has led the charge against Obamacare:
According to public records, FreedomWorks received more than $12 millionbefore the election from two corporations based in Knoxville, Tenn.: Specialty Investments Group and Kingston Pike Development. The firms were established within a day of each other by William S. Rose III, a local bankruptcy lawyer.
Rose, who could not be reached for comment, has said publicly he would not answer questions about the donations. But according to three current and former FreedomWorks employees with knowledge of the donations, the money originated with Stephenson and his family, who arranged for the contributions from the Tennessee firms to the super PAC.
Brandon, FreedomWorks’ executive vice president, told colleagues starting in August that Stephenson would be giving between $10 million and $12 million, these sources said. Brandon also met repeatedly with members of Stephenson’s family who were involved in arranging the donations, the sources said.
Stephenson attended a FreedomWorks retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in August at which a budget was being prepared in anticipation of a large influx of money, according to several employees who attended the retreat. At the retreat, Stephenson dictated some of the terms of how the money would be spent, the employees said.
“There is no doubt that Dick Stephenson arranged for that money to come to the super PAC,” said one person who attended the retreat. “I can assure you that everyone around the office knew about it.”
I was just in the process of working through this huge donation along with some others that flowed in through Americans for Prosperity and others when this article broke. Stephenson has every reason in the world to fight Obamacare: As more people are covered by health insurance, he will make less money with his for-profit cancer treatment centers. As for candidates, Stephenson wanted Deadbeat Dad Joe Walsh to be the beneficiary of FreedomWorks' astroturf and his money. Sad for Stephenson, Joe Walsh lost anyway. Awww.
As things stand today, Matt Kibbe and Dick Armey hate each other; Kibbe retains control of the organization and Armey goes back to Texas with some megabucks rolling in for the next couple of years. A coup turned to a buyout. How corporate of a "grass-roots group."
More significantly, it would appear that the purists won the battle, which means the country will be held hostage to more wingnuttery, more extremism, more astroturf battles, and more stalemates than we already have. Whatever you think of Dick Armey, he was at least pragmatic enough to figure out that these candidates would not be elected, and for that pragmatism, he was put out to pasture, albeit a very rich pasture.
Who said politicians can't be bought?