Dick Armey chooses ‘grassroots’ campaign at FreedomWorks

By Laurie Bennett

August 18, 2009 at 9:38am

Finding himself caught between those lobbying for health care reform and the people who are shouting it down at town hall meetings, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has chosen the demonstrators.

Armey announced last week that he was resigning his lobbying position at DLA Piper, whose clients include pharmaceutical companies that support President Obama’s plan.

He’ll instead focus his efforts on FreedomWorks, a group that has mobilized opposition at the town meetings.

As The New York Times points out, Armey’s support has shifted radically since the last time health care reform was on the front burner.

Dick Armey
Dick Armey

Fifteen years ago, drug companies were aligned with him in opposing reform. This time, the companies have worked out an agreement with the White House limiting their share of the costs.

DLA Piper, whose clients include Bristol-Myers Squibb and Medicines Company, has done its best to distance itself from FreedomWorks. In a press release, Chairman Frank Burch said:

Despite some unfounded media suggestions attempting to link DLA Piper to FreedomWorks’s opposition to health care reform, the firm has not, on its own behalf, or on the behalf of any client, directly or indirectly opposed any of the pending health care reform bills. On the contrary, DLA Piper represents clients who support enactment of effective health care reform this year.

FreedomWorks positions itself as an organizer of grassroots campaigns on issues such as health care, taxes, school choice and welfare. One of its web sites, highlighted on Rachel Maddow’s show Monday, is called Angry Renter, ostensibly representing responsible renters who are being unfairly taxed because of the bad behavior of homeowners who have defaulted on mortgages.

FreedomWorks leadership, however, includes wealthy powerhouses from politics and business. Forbes chairman and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes is a director of the group’s fundraising arm.

In addition to Armey, FreedomWorks’s board includes James Burnley, transportation secretary during the Reagan administration; Richard Stephenson, founder of Cancer Treatment Centers of America; and Bob Perry, founder of Perry Homes and a major donor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

The organization collected and spent more than $2 million in 2007, the most recent year for which tax returns are publicly available. At that time, Armey was being paid $80,000 annually for an average four hours of work per week.

Times columnist Paul Krugman and others call organizations such as these “AstroTurf” - fake grass roots. He writes that they’re supported by “the usual group of right-wing billionaires” and promoted by Fox News.

FreedomWorks isn’t required to list its donors on its tax returns. However, the Washington Post has reported that its backers include Philip Morris, MetLife and foundations controlled by the conservative Scaife family.

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