FreedomWorks is a pay-to-play corporate front group that has historically served as a service for corporate lobbyists to generate “grassroots” support for narrow special interest legislation. Dick Armey, after taking over the group, routinely used FreedomWorks to serve his corporate clients at his lobbying firm, DLA Piper. As the Washington Post noted, after ThinkProgress highlighted Armey’s use of FreedomWorks “organizing” to his own benefit, he resigned from DLA Piper. However, other corporate lobbyists, like Gray & Schmitz chief lobbyist C. Boyden Gray and Venable lobbyist James Burnley continue to oversee FreedomWorks (and continue to lobby for right-wing corporate interests). In the last two years, FreedomWorks has become known for its key role in organizing Tea Party opposition to President Obama and to reforms designed to help reign in corporate abuses.
On Thursday and Friday, FreedomWorks hosted a retreat for freshmen Republican lawmakers. Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-UT), according to the New York Times, recalled almost breaking out in tears over the vast resources FreedomWorks dedicated to helping him get elected. However, the retreat occurred amidst new reports claiming that Republican insiders and GOP operatives are using events during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress to co-opt new “Tea Party” lawmakers.
ThinkProgress traveled to Baltimore for the retreat, and asked Lee if he was worried about the appearance of attending a retreat run by a former lobbyist for banking other corporate interests:
TP: I know Tea Party groups have actually raised concerns about a lot of quote unquote insider trainings and conferences during this break period. Are you worried that some of this freshmen class are going to be co-opted by lobbyists? I know Dick Armey used to lobby for AIG and some of the big banks and some of the pharmaceutical companies. Are you worried about some of the lobbyists co-opting the Tea Party movement?
LEE: Not at all. To the supporters of the Tea Party movement, and to its antagonists, I have one thing to say: Watch what’s next.
In addition to Lee, other GOP freshmen, including Reps. Todd Young (R-IN), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Tim Scott (R-SC), Reid Ribble (R-WI), Steve Pearce (R-NM), and Andy Harris (R-MD), attended the event. Shortly after the retreat, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Lee appointed one of “Utah’s most prominent lobbyists” to be his chief of staff.
Armey, who presided over the event in Baltimore, has personally lobbied for multinational alcohol company Diego, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Medicines Co, Raytheon, Carmax, and many other corporations. Although Armey and his “Tea Party” cohorts have assailed President Obama’s economic stimulus, which helped create 3 million jobs for the middle class, as wasteful taxpayer “bailouts,” his lobbying firm helped engineer the bank bailouts of 2008. As the Wonk Room reported, while Armey worked for DLA Piper, the firm assisted AIG, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch during President Bush’s bank bailouts.
FreedomWorks is not a genuine grassroots group serving the public interest. Even the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal has exposed Armey building “amateur-looking” websites — under the FreedomWorks brand — to promote Armey’s corporate clients.