Armey Says FreedomWorks Ready to Mobilize Beyond Health Debate

Posted August 18, 2009 at 5:16pm

Get ready to see a whole lot more of former Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas).

Although it’s been six years since he retired and headed downtown to K Street, the former Majority Leader says his post-Congressional career is just getting started. Newly freed from his nine-to-five lobbying gig at DLA Piper, the GOP rabble-rouser is now working full-time at FreedomWorks, a grass-roots conservative group at the center of the health care debate.

Boasting 750,000 activists with ready and now-proven online mobilization abilities, Armey says his organization’s members are ready to sabotage immigration reform, a cap-and-trade proposal and other Democratic legislative priorities that are likely to stir the conservative base.

Democrats “are like a bunch of duck hunters,— Armey said in an interview Tuesday. “They can’t fulfill their desires to take over the health care system, they’re not going to sit there and relax, they are going to turn their attention to something else.—

The White House has asked that immigration reform be taken up before the end of the year, while contentious climate change legislation already passed by the House awaits Senators when they return in September.

Even though health care remains on the front burner, Armey said his group already is preparing to pounce.

“We sit here ready to jump to the right or to the left,— Armey said.

Armey confirmed that his group is dead-set against the pending cap-and-trade bill and not in favor of granting earned status to the estimated 13 million undocumented workers in the United States.

“If you, in fact, are in our country breaking laws, you should have full prosecution of the law,— Armey said, adding that his belief is that undocumented immigrants must leave the country before applying for readmission. “Cap-and-trade is an enormous energy tax and a unilateral effort to accommodate environmentalists.—

Long considered too reliant on direct mail and elderly activists to be nimble, Armey said FreedomWorks’ involvement in the current health care drive showcases how Republicans are catching up with Democrats on the technology front.

FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said his group had an $8 million budget last year but otherwise does not discuss money “to protect aggressive attacks on companies who people have claimed are donors but aren’t even donors.—

Still, Kibbe offered a peak at his group’s potential. Although far less than the Democratic National Committee’s powerful 15 million-plus e-mail list it inherited from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, Kibbe said FreedomWorks has a 400,000-member e-mail list and gets roughly 70 percent of its donations from individuals.

The organization is also finalizing the migration of its fundraising operations from direct mail — long considered the sweet spot for conservative issue groups — to the Internet.

“We’re catching up with them. Conservative groups were behind and they didn’t use these tools as effectively as the other guys did,— Armey said. “We wanted to be the first that got out there … [to] use the Internet effectively for the right cause.—

He continued: “If we haven’t led the way on the conservative side of the ledger on how to most effectively use these instruments that have been used so well by [MoveOn.org] and the Obama campaign, we are certainly leaders on the other side of the aisle.—

Armey flatly dismissed criticisms that his members are responsible for highly publicized disruptions at recent health care town hall meetings, blaming most of last week’s anecdotal dispatches on the followers of perennial presidential candidate and political gadfly Lyndon LaRouche.

“The Lyndon LaRouche-ers have hounded and pestered town hall meetings since Moby Dick was a minnow. I had to put up with the LaRouche-ers, these guys have to put up with the LaRouche-ers,— Armey said. “But if you take a look at the guys with the Nazi signs, nine out of 10 times they’re LaRouche-ers.—

“We have always instructed our activists to mind your manners, have a good presentation, be civil and courteous and you improve your chances of being called upon and being able to ask your question and get your feet into the Congressional fire,— he continued. “You can’t do that if you’re making a demonstration of yourself.—

DLA Piper announced last week that Armey was departing after six years at the firm. Armey strongly denied he was ousted at the behest of a firm’s health care clients or its partners.

In a brief statement announcing his departure last week, DLA Piper Chairman Frank Burch said “we are sorry to see Dick Armey leave … but we appreciate his taking the initiative to clear up confusion concerning FreedomWorks.—

Burch made clear, however, that “FreedomWorks is a separate and distinct entity from DLA Piper.—

Armey maintains that his association with the contentious conservative group simply became too disruptive to continue his work for the lobbying firm, particularly when reporters and television personalities were regularly dinging him.

“It was clear that they were never going to get away from this simple minded theme,— he said. “There was no single firm client that, to my knowledge, asked for my dismissal and nobody in the firm asked for my dismissal.—

He added: “This was Dick Armey making a very simple decision: I have to give full and free expression to my voice and my fight for liberty.—