Freedom Works CEO Matt Kibbe is partly to blame for the financial and cultural troubles at the major Tea Party group. PHOTO: Gage Skidmore, CC License
Freedom Works, the Tea Party group that has done more than any other group to boost Tea Party candidates, including Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is losing money and morale at an alarming rate, according to ex-staffers. Sources told Buzzfeed that Freedom Works, after raising $40 million last year, has only pulled in $3-10 million this year, and a lot of that is wasted on unnecessarily lavish perks. While the Tea Party movement will live on with or without Freedom Works, the issues within Freedom Works highlights internal issues that the Tea Party has never really addressed, namely that this grassroots movement has always served the interests of its billionaire funders.
Freedom Works fundraising totals are one issue, but it is expected that there would be a drop-off going from a Presidential election year to a year with only one real race of interest for the Tea Party (the Virginia Governor’s race). The bigger issue is how the money is managed. For an organization that preaches fiscal responsibility, Freedom Works doesn’t seem to have a lot of it. CEO Matt Kibbe, a craft beer aficionado, had a craft beer bar installed in Freedom Works’ office. Executives were given high-end hotels and meals on Freedom Works account for conferences. Kibbe allegedly used Freedom Works resources to promote his book. The organization spent a million dollars propping up Glenn Beck’s network The Blaze. After Dick Armey tried to stage a coup of Kibbe and top executive Adam Brandon. The coup was unsuccessful, and Armey was paid $8 million to leave.
What does this say about the Tea Party? On one hand, Freedom Works financial troubles are a result of a growing market for conservative action groups. Increased competition from Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund, among others. On the other hand, the issues at Freedom Works highlight a larger issue of the Tea Party: the leaders of the party stand to gain directly from Tea Party victories. That is, by investing in Tea Party candidates, billionaires like the Koch brothers hope to see their investments come back to them in the form of lower taxes, bigger and better tax loopholes, and increased privatization in the U.S. For this reason, it can be hard, with the Tea Party, to see where philosophy of government ends and personal interest begins. This is an issue for any party, but it is most acute with the Tea Party.
Should Freedom Works cease to be (or at least cease to be effective), there are already plenty of groups to fill its place in the world of Tea Party advocacy. To last, however, they will need to avoid the cultural issues that plague Freedom Works and prove that these issues aren’t endemic to the Tea Party.