The Tea Party fundraising group FreedomWorks ran out of cash and had to take out a $1 million line of credit this year, according to a Friday report by Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins and Rosie Gray. Sources close to the organization explain that while FreedomWorks raised more than $40 million in 2012, the nonprofit has come up with less than $10 million this year. Which doesn't sound horrible, considering it's not an election year, but FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe (the one with the weird sideburns) has been blowing through company cash on very un-populist party expenses: fancy hotel rooms and a craft beer bar.
FreedomWorks spokeswoman Jackie Bodnar didn't deny these claims to Coppins and Gray, but she had a few words for their sources:
"Someone has clearly contacted you with the rumors being spread about FreedomWorks, and they are part of a series of baseless attacks from salty former employees who have decided to spend their days spreading lies rather than working to advance the movement. It’s really unfortunate to watch the malice unfold from these nameless accusers who lurk in the shadows of ‘deep background’ interviews."
What "salty" ex-employees might Bodnar be referring to? We have some guesses. Former chairman Dick Armey (right) resigned with a fair amount of money in his pocket after trying to stage an armed coup at company headquarters before the 2012 election. According to reports, on the day after Labor Day 2012, Armey "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."
And since he left, Armey has publicized Freedomworks' poor investments. In January, he revealed that FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh a lot of money to promote the organization, but that investment did not deliver in terms of fundraising.
Now Freedomworks' money problems seem to stem from ill-advised spending. Coppins and Gray report, "Sources describe a culture where fiscal conservatism is ostensibly prized, but staff dine out at fancy restaurants on the company’s dollar and a microbrew bar in the office with four kegs (Kibbe is a craft beer aficionado) is paid for with FreedomWorks money." Kibbe hasn't responded to these claims, but Bodnar says they come from "bored former employees." She insists, "We’re moving full steam ahead in our efforts to help grassroots conservatives keep the pressure on Congress to defund and/or delay Obamacare."
Buzzfeed's report doesn't quite gel with Robert Costa's in The National Review in September. Costa reported that Tea Party groups were only getting stronger during the run up to the shutdown: "Business has boomed since the push to defund Obamacare caught on. Conservative activists are lighting up social media, donations are pouring in, and e-mail lists are growing." But, according to Coppins and Gray, the Tea Party message has caught on to the point that FreedomWorks no longer has a monopoly on it.
The Senate Conservatives Fund and the Heritage Foundation have gotten in on the populist fundraising action, too. According to a BuzzFeed source, "The Senate Conservatives Fund is 'sucking the oxygen out of the room when it comes to the primary election piece of what FreedomWorks used to do. And Heritage Action has grown tremendously as far as organizing the grassroots activists goes.'" FreedomWorks launched Sen. Ted Cruz's career, but now SCF is on the "forefront of the shutdown battle, threatening to finance primary challenges to any Republican who doesn’t hold the line." In the free marketplace of ideas, FreedomWorks needs to work a little harder to earn its craft beers.
(Photo via the Associated Press.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.