FreedomWorks was one of the key forces behind the Tea Party movement and the far-right’s attempts to undermine the Obama administration.
FreedomWorks Inc. is a 501(c)(4) advocacy group that was one of the key forces behind the Tea Party movement and the far-right’s attempts to undermine the Obama administration.
The organization popularized the “astroturfing” strategy, whereby political operatives and wealthy special interests sponsor seemingly spontaneous events and provide activists with prewritten talking points to create the impression of a grassroots political movement. FreedomWorks claims that it “breaks down the barriers between the beltway insiders and grassroots America,” when, in reality, the group was established and is run by longtime conservative strategists who engineer insincere campaigns designed to resemble community-led efforts.
Adam Brandon is the president of FreedomWorks and the FreedomWorks Foundation. He is in charge of managing the operations of the various FreedomWorks entities, including the 501(c)(3) foundation, 501(c)(4) issue activism effort, and two political action committees.
Brandon is also a member of the highly secretive networking group, the Council for National Policy, and an advisory council member at Turning Point USA, which helped organize the rally preceding the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Noah Wall has served as the executive vice president of FreedomWorks since 2020. He first joined the organization in 2014 as the national director for campaigns and later became the group’s vice president of advocacy. Before joining FreedomWorks, Wall worked for Ken Cuccinell’s Virginia attorney general and gubernatorial campaigns.
Joan Carter is the chair of FreedomWorks Inc. and a board member of the FreedomWorks Foundation. She is the co-founder and president of UM Holdings, a privately-held firm that owns and manages the portfolios of dozens of businesses. Carter also sits on the board of the libertarian think tank, the Reason Foundation. She previously served on the board of the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Cleta Mitchell, the conservative legal activist best known for helping Donald Trump attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, led FreedomWorks’ “election protection” program that organized protests against the 2020 outcome. The initiative also trained conservative activists to stop Democrats from committing voter fraud in their towns and states, despite the lack of any evidence supporting their premise.
Mitchell is a senior legal fellow and the board secretary at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where she leads their Election Integrity Network, as well as chairman and director of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Both organizations have been involved in spreading voter and election fraud conspiracy theories and attempting to restrict voting rights.
Described by former colleagues as “fringe of the fringe,” Mitchell played a key role in popularizing these conspiracy theories and building support for them within the mainstream conservative movement and has been instrumental in the conservative assault on voting rights.
In addition to her work surrounding alleged voter fraud and “election integrity,” Mitchell is the longtime head of the Republican National Lawyers Association, which has focused on training its members in election law since the contested 2000 election, and serves on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Mitchell has also previously worked as counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Republican Committee, served as a board member of the National Rifle Association, and has ties to the secretive Council for National Policy and the Federalist Society.
FreedomWorks Inc. was founded in 1984 as the Foundation for a Sound Economy, a 501(c)(3) created by David Koch and his associate Richard Fink. In 1988, the foundation was converted into a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy.
FreedomWorks popularized the “astroturfing” strategy, whereby political operatives create the impression of widespread support by sponsoring supposedly community-led events and providing activists with prewritten talking points.
At the CPAC convention in Florida in 2011, FreedomWorks announced that it was launching a super PAC called FreedomWorks for America to “empower the leaderless, decentralized community of the tea party movement as it continues its hostile takeover of the GOP establishment.” In line with FreedomWorks’ astroturfing strategy, FreedomWorks for America created a website with information about phone banking for tea party candidates, “activist toolkits” and training videos, and get-out-the-vote materials. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said the new organization was “not about turning blue states red, but rather to turn every state a bright shade of Gadsden yellow.”
FreedomWorks rose to prominence in the late 2000s and early 2010s as one of the main forces behind the Tea Party movement, which political analysts have characterized as a backlash to the election of President Barack Obama. The Tea Party positioned itself as a populist movement advocating for libertarian solutions in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity sponsored the earliest Tea Party activities, including protests and trainings in Washington, D.C. and across the country. During Obama’s first year in office, FreedomWorks and AFP sponsored the demonstrations against the administration’s proposed healthcare reform plan, the Taxpayers March on Washington (also known as the 9/12 March), and town hall protests across the country. The groups continued to support local Tea Party activities by sponsoring rallies, providing talking points and communication materials, and holding trainings.
The Tea Party movement and FreedomWorks’ electoral influence peaked in the early 2010s. In the 2010 election, 70 of the 114 candidates FreedomWorks endorsed for federal office won their races. In the 2012 cycle, FreedomWorks for America spent $22.6 million boosting candidates aligned with the Tea Party.
FreedomWorks has been criticized for taking money from corporate donors and using its political influence to push for policies and legislation favorable to those donors.
FreedomWorks, backed by the oil and gas industry, pushed the Tea Party movement to focus its “grassroots” efforts on opposing climate change policies.
FreedomWorks fiercely opposes unions and has led aggressive campaigns to thwart union membership and power by advocating for what they call “workplace freedom” legislation.
In 2009, FreedomWorks organized town hall protests across the country in opposition to the Obama administration’s health care reform plan.
Despite FreedomWorks’ longstanding opposition to government bailouts, the FreedomWorks Foundation applied for a Small Business Administration loan of $300,000 through the Paycheck Protection Program in April 2020.
In 2020, FreedomWorks joined Koch-backed groups, including Americans for Prosperity, in supporting the Trump administration’s decision to eliminate the requirement for nonprofits to report donor information on the IRS Schedule B form. The Intercept described this disclosure requirement as “one of the last remaining ways for authorities to monitor the flow of unlawful campaign cash in American elections,” especially donations from foreign entities. Trump’s proposed rule would allow an “unprecedented level of secrecy” for organizations such as FreedomWorks, which mobilized its supporters to send hundreds of letters to the IRS to defend Trump’s decision.
FreedomWorks is one of many right-wing groups seeking to influence the 118th Congress and a potential GOP presidential administration in 2025.
FreedomWorks has a long history of trying to influence the leadership of Republican-controlled chambers:
The group has also indicated that it will try to influence the work of House committees in the 118th Congress:
In addition to its efforts to influence Congress, FreedomWorks is working with other right-wing groups preparing for a potential Republican presidential administration in 2025. In April 2022, FreedomWorks joined a coalition created by the Heritage Foundation focused entirely on preparing the next Republican presidential administration with policy recommendations and a curated list of personnel to help “take back America.” Within two months of launching the project, Heritage had assembled a coalition of nearly two dozen of the most influential organizations in the conservative movement.
In addition to funding from corporations like AT&T and Philip Morris, FreedomWorks entities receive significant sums from top right-wing foundations. Between 2020 and 2021, the FreedomWorks Foundation received $1.1 million from dark money conduit DonorsTrust, $875,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, $815,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, $525,000 from the Searle Freedom Trust, $285,000 from the Dunn Foundation, and $150,000 from the Thomas W. Smith Foundation.
In 2006, The Washington Post reported that FreedomWorks had earned hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of new member signups since 2000 through the sale of insurance policies.
The group’s vice president defended the deal, saying it’s just how “nonprofits do their job.”
FreedomWorks worked “hand-in-glove” with the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity to help launch the Tea Party movement in 2009, including teaming up to sponsor tea party protests on tax day and the Taxpayers March on Washington on Sept. 12.
FreedomWorks is a member of the State Policy Network, an alliance of think tanks pushing conservative and libertarian policy at the state level that is connected to the Koch network and other national conservative think tanks.
Be the first to know when there is new information and updates.