Executive Summary: Small Fry works for an organization that exists to make the lives of working people as crappy as possible and everyone is surprised when the overly-entitled wingnut figurhead treats everyone like the serf he sees them as being, foments an armed revolution in gun-free DC, and days later is deposed with an $8M bribe from a fellow benefactor of teabagger politics. There are no heroes or victims here.
Richard K. Armey, [Freedom Works’] 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 [Matt Kibbe, the group’s president, and Adam Brandon, its senior vice president], 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.
Aside from the laughably and demonstrably false claim that Freedom Works is a grass roots organization, I like that Dick Armey tried for an armed insurrection to take over a lobbying group. Better yet, he hired a stooge to handle the gun so that there would be no crime attributable to him… But who is this Stephenson?
[Stephenson] founded the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in 1988 following his mother’s death from bladder cancer, according to the for-profit company’s Web site and his public remarks. Stephenson also holds investments in a broad portfolio of other businesses, including finance and real estate companies.
That sounds about right: a wingnut who is making a fortune off of the misery of others.
Stephenson has a passion for libertarian politics stretching back to the 1960s, when he attended seminars featuring “Atlas Shrugged” author Ayn Rand and economist Murray Rothbard, according to those who know him at FreedomWorks. Like Armey, Stephenson was an early supporter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, the conservative lobbying group founded by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch in 1984 that split into FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity 20 years later. The Kochs, known for bankrolling a variety of conservative causes, kept control of AFP, while Stephenson and Armey stayed with FreedomWorks.
Dividing the spoils, as it were. Pirates got nothing on the modern wingnut.
FreedomWorks has struggled with accusations that it is an “astroturfer” — a national organization of big-money donors that swept in to lay claim to an independent movement.
According to public records, FreedomWorks received more than $12 millionbefore [sic] 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.
Because nothing says grassroots like multi-million-dollar infusions of untraceable cash from a single-donor. Sounds like the astroturf allegation can be entered into evidence.
Among other things, Stephenson wanted a substantial sum spent in support of Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a tea party favorite and Stephenson’s local congressman, several who attended the retreat recalled. Walsh garnered national headlines during the campaign when he questioned whether his opponent, Tammy Duckworth, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq, was a “true hero.” Despite internal misgivings about the value of the investment, FreedomWorks spent $1.7 million on ads supporting Walsh; he lost the race.
What?! Stephenson paid good money to re-elect Walsh! How dare the serfs defy him?! But let’s return to the coup. What was it about?
By nearly all accounts, including from those loyal to him, Armey handled his attempted coup badly. Armey says he was stepping in because of ethical breaches by Kibbe and Brandon, accusing them of improperly using FreedomWorks staff resources to produce a book — ironically, named “Hostile Takeover” — for which Kibbe claimed sole credit and was collecting royalties. The use of internal resources for Kibbe’s benefit could jeopardize the group’s nonprofit tax status; the group denies any impropriety.
So it was about power AND money, which is all that keeps most elderly wingnuts alive.
In subsequent meetings, Susan Armey passed her husband notes that several employees assumed contained suggestions on what to say. According to a recording of a staff conference call provided to The Washington Post, Armey bewildered his audience by demanding more FreedomWorks support for Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican whose Senate campaign had already cratered after his comments about “legitimate rape.”
“It was clear that under Armey’s leadership, the organization as we knew it was going to be driven into the ground,” said one junior employee.
Enter Stephenson, who agreed to the multimillion-dollar financial incentive to push Armey out and install Kibbe back at the helm.
The payments were necessary, several FreedomWorks leaders said, because Armey was threatening to sue over Kibbe’s book deal.
Grifters gotta grift.