As one who spends a lot of her time researching organizations like FreedomWorks, I'm incredibly grateful to Mother Jones and Andy Kroll for their latest, which includes a leaked post-Dick Armey departure board report.
The report confirms what we've said here all along: FreedomWorks is less grass roots and more astroturf than anything else, with the majority of its funding coming from corporate donors, foundations, and big money types. You may recall that Richard Stephenson of Cancer Centers of America is the sugar daddy who bought Dick Armey's $8 million retirement. There's more.
Big donations like Stephenson's are business as usual for FreedomWorks. According to a 52-page report prepared by FreedomWorks' top brass for a board of directors meeting held in mid-December at the Virginia office ofSands Capital Management, an investment firm run by FreedomWorks board member Frank Sands, the entire FreedomWorks organization—its 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) nonprofit arms and its super-PAC—raised nearly $41 million through mid-December. Of that total, $33 million—or 81 percent of its 2012 fundraising—came in the form of "major gifts," the type of big donations coveted by nonprofits and super-PACs. (FreedomWorks' nonprofit components do not have to disclose their funders.)
There are lots of nuggets in the board report worth talking about and the Mother Jones report has many highlighted. But I want to give some attention to a small, easy-to-miss item that deserves more sunlight. Page 14 of the PDF lists development projects for 2013. Here's the list:
- Major Donor DVD Project
- Glenn Beck Radio Ads
- Glenn Beck TV (GBTV)
- TheBlaze Action Center
- Youth/Minority Outreach
- FreePAC 2013 (six regional events)
- Substantial FreedomConnector Upgrades
- 4th Annual Blog-Con
- Bloggers & Blogger Outreach
- Development Publications & Mailings
- Activist Fly-Ins (quarterly)
- FreedomWorks University
- Legislative Entrepreneur Events
- Online Marketing
- FreedomConnector International
- FreedomConnector Mobile App
- Upgrading Campaign Technology
- Hill Briefings (retreat, meetings, breakfasts)
- Rush Limbaugh Contract
What is the "Rush Limbaugh contract," do you suppose? We already knew FreedomWorks stepped in to pick up some of the slack from lost advertising caused by the StopRush project, and it appears that Glenn Beck is also in need of some backchannel subsidizing. But why the differentiation between listing Glenn Beck's advertising as an ongoing concern, and calling Rush Limbaugh's subsidy a "contract"?
What is it that FreedomWorks gets in that contract, and what does Rush Limbaugh deliver? MediaMatters asked Dick Armey, who dished on the Beck/Limbaugh subsidies in detail:
"The arrangement was simply FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck money and Glenn Beck said nice things about FreedomWorks on the air," Armey, the former House majority leader, told Media Matters Friday. "I saw that a million dollars went to Beck this past year, that was the annual expenditure."
Armey, who left the organization this past fall after a dispute over its internal operations, said a similar arrangement was also in place with Rush Limbaugh, but did not know the exact financial details.
"I put it down now as basically as paid advertising for FreedomWorks by Beck," Armey said, calling it a mistake.
I see. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are being propped up by FreedomWorks in exchange for nice, "unsolicited" remarks about FreedomWorks on the air, after advertisers march away in droves for their hateful, crazy comments. Of course. How grass-rootsy of FreedomWorks to take care of their own.
It does, however, highlight the self-inflicted damage Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have wrought in the name of blusterbuss conservative talk radio. The StopRush folks estimate that over 2,200 national and regional advertisers have withdrawn their support for his show. Other advertisers like Quicken Loans tell StopRush volunteers they've pulled their advertising, wait for a while, then slowly reintroduce their ads on his show.
Richard Myers, who was one of the leaders of the effort until his sudden and untimely death last month, reported that Clear Channel was laying off hundreds, even as Dana Loesch overtook Rush in some key markets. Rest in peace, Richard. I trust you're watching from somewhere as the effort continues, as strong as ever.
It would appear the effort is effective enough that FreedomWorks felt the need to step up with some wingnut welfare for old Rushbo. Of course, it's not only about radio, but star power, which FreedomWorks still seems to think Rush and Glenn have.
Armey complained to Media Matters about how Beck in particular is used to raise "grassroots donations" at events where he's featured.
Armey said he objected to these events, dubbed FreePACs, because they often charged admission to FreedomWorks activists.
"You don't charge activists to attend rallies. I would consider that wholly inappropriate behavior," Armey said. "There was a lot of resentment on the part of the activists. They would naturally expect that they are providing the activist power and think that they have a right to attend."
"The principal value to anyone from the relationship with Beck was Matt Kibbe, who got to share Beck's stage with him," Armey said, adding that he found out about the July 2012 Dallas rally after his name was already being used to promote it.
It's always nice to have confirmation for what we knew in our gut. So let's just call Beck and Limbaugh FreedomWorks' whores and be done with it.