Few political developments in 2012 offered the intrigue of the high-profile split between FreedomWorks and its chairman, former congressman Dick Armey.
Armey, 72, had been with the organization since 2004 and had become in many ways the face of the group. The closing weeks of 2012 offered glimpses of bizarre details: Armey’s departure was sweetened by a payout of $8 million in consulting fees paid in annual $400,000 installments from a FreedomWorks board member; Armey initially communicated his side of the story through an interview with the progressive magazine Mother Jones. Finally, on December 25, the Washington Postreported on an aborted coup in September, when Armey, his wife, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist walked into the FreedomWorks offices and fired two of the top staffers: Matt Kibbe, the group’s president; and Adam Brandon, its senior vice president. The coup disbanded six days later; instead, Armey accepted his payout and determined to formally depart after the November elections.
Armey initially attributed the breakdown in relations with Kibbe to Kibbe’s book deal in 2012 for the publication of Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government’s Stranglehold on America. Armey was concerned that Kibbe had “structured the deal to personally profit from the book despite relying on FreedomWorks staff and resources to research, help write and promote it,” according to the Politico account. Armey and others at FreedomWorks believed this arrangement could jeopardize the group’s tax-exempt status.
A source inside FreedomWorks confirms that FreedomWorks’ legal counsel reviewed and edited Kibbe’s $50,000 book contract with the publisher before Kibbe signed it. The arrangement, which allowed the organization to promote the book and use it to build membership and donor support, was very similar to an earlier effort to promote Armey’s Axioms, a book Armey wrote when he worked for Citizens for a Sound Economy, one of the organizations that merged to form FreedomWorks in 2004. That arrangement allowed Armey to keep the royalties from Armey’s Axioms even as Citizens for a Sound Economy promoted the book on a national tour. The logic to this kind of argument is that the benefit to the organization, in terms of increasing membership, building the brand, and fundraising, far outweighs any costs incurred.
In early December, Kibbe decided to donate all proceeds from Hostile Takeover to FreedomWorks, according to staff. This source within FreedomWorks says that one fundraising pitch lifted directly from the book raised more than $350,000 for the organization.
In January, Armey elaborated on his complaint, telling David Corn of Mother Jones that he had been asked to sign a memo in August declaring that Kibbe was the “sole author and copyright owner” of the work and that “no significant FreedomWorks resources were used in the writing of the book.” Armey contended that the opposite was true.
After repeated requests for comment on Armey’s complaints and allegations, FreedomWorks provided a statement from businessman and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, who is a member of FreedonWorks’ board of directors. “Matt Kibbe has been to FreedomWorks what Steve Jobs was to Apple,” Forbes said. “That’s why under Matt Kibbe’s leadership, FreedomWorks has grown dramatically over the past several years and has become a powerful support system for grassroots activists that make up the freedom movement. Great success always begets carping criticisms. The achievements of Matt and his team speak for themselves.”
In comments to the Associated Press, Armey suggested in December that his division with Kibbe and other leaders at the organization stemmed from his belief that the group was losing its way. “My differences with FreedomWorks are a matter of principle,” he said.
So what changed within FreedomWorks between 2010 and 2012? For one, the fights the group picked in 2012 were much more likely to ruffle feathers among Washington Republicans than its most high-profile crusades had been in 2010.