FreedomWorks was one of the key forces behind the Tea Party movement and the far-right’s attempts to undermine the Obama administration. 

About FreedomWorks

FreedomWorks claims to be a “grassroots” organization supported by small donations and community activists, but the group is heavily funded by major foundations and corporations that share a common anti-government agenda.

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. 

  • FreedomWorks originated from Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was founded in 1984 by Charles and David Koch and subsidized by the oil industry. The FreedomWorks brand also includes a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called the FreedomWorks Foundation, which runs the network’s policy and education operations, and the FreedomWorks for America super PAC, which directly supports libertarian-minded candidates. 
  • The organization was instrumental in the rise of the Tea Party movement after President Barack Obama was sworn into office. The organization helped organize the wave of anti-tax protests in 2009 against the Obama administration’s agenda, including its climate change and health care reform plans. In 2010, The New York Times said FreedomWorks “has done more than any other organization to build the Tea Party movement.”
  • FreedomWorks has been called a “corporate-funded front group” for fighting against federal regulations and social welfare programs on behalf of their corporate and wealthy donors. FreedomWorks claims to be a “grassroots” organization supported by small donations and community activists, but the group is heavily funded by major foundations and corporations that share a common anti-government agenda.

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, President and Board Member (FreedomWorks Inc. & FreedomWorks Foundation)

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, Executive Vice President (FreedomWorks Inc. & FreedomWorks Foundation)

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, Chair (FreedomWorks Inc.) & Board Member (FreedomWorks Foundation)

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, FreedomWorks’ “Election Protection Initiative” Director

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. 

  • Mitchell participated in Trump’s infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2, 2021, where Trump demanded that Raffensperger “find” enough votes for him to win the state.
  • Mitchell was subpoenaed by the House January 6th Committee for her role in the insurrection, as well as by the special grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, which is investigating potential criminal interference in the election. She was also the subject of an ethics complaint filed by ​​the D.C. Bar’s Board on Professional Responsibility “for making false statements and assisting Trump in criminal and fraudulent behavior.”
  • Mitchell was represented by a law firm that received payments from a Trump PAC as she initially worked to defy the House Committee’s subpoena, though she did eventually end up testifying before the committee.
  • Mitchell has advised conservative leaders on how to strike down legislation that removes barriers to voting, and how to craft policies to make voting more difficult.
  • After Trump’s disproven allegations of voter fraud were dismissed by the courts, Mitchell continued to assert the courts never properly addressed them.

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 she 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. 

  • Charles and David Koch poured millions of dollars into the organization in its early years, reportedly giving CSE at least $7.9 million between 1986 and 1993. Sen. Ron Paul (R-TX) was appointed as the organization’s first chair.
  • Citizens for a Sound Economy split into two organizations after an internal rift in 2004. The foundation was renamed Americans for Prosperity, while CSE merged with Empower America to become FreedomWorks. The Kochs focused their attention on Americans for Prosperity after CSE split. Charles Koch remains a significant funder of AFP’s work. FreedomWorks claims it operates independently of the Kochs and has never received funding from Koch Industries or any of the family’s foundations. 
  • FreedomWorks was chaired by former U.S. Representative Dick Armey (R-TX) until 2012 when he abruptly resigned after a hostile fallout with FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe and vice president Adam Brandon. Armey accused Kibbe and Brandon of improperly using FreedomWorks’ internal resources to publish Kibbe’s book, which jeopardized the organization’s nonprofit status. The Washington Post reported that Armey had a “near-meltdown” and “marched into FreedomWorks’s office Sept. 4 with his wife, Susan, executive assistant Jean Campbell and the unidentified man with the gun at his waist — who promptly escorted Kibbe and Brandon out of the building.” Armey eventually left the organization in exchange for an $8 million severance deal.

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.

Representing Corporate Interests

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.

Climate Denial

FreedomWorks, backed by the oil and gas industry, pushed the Tea Party movement to focus its “grassroots” efforts on opposing climate change policies. 

  • Mother Jones identified FreedomWorks as a significant climate change denier, citing the group’s rallies against climate policy and its promotion of outright disinformation about climate change. For example, a 2009 blog post on FreedomWorks’ site called proponents of climate legislation “global warming alarmists” and falsely claimed that the “planet hasn’t warmed since about 1998 and has cooled since 2002.”  
  • FreedomWorks rallied against climate change legislation in 2009, joining a coalition of industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and conservative advocacy organizations, including Americans for Tax Reform and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste. The groups employed the rising astroturfing strategy, organizing under the banner of “Energy Citizens” as they sponsored rallies across the country.
  • FreedomWorks helped organize Tea Party rallies and distributed fliers opposing federal regulations on carbon emissions, calling such policies a “power grab.”
  • In 2010, FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey and CEO Matthew Kibbe authored the “Tea Party Manifesto,” which called on supporters to rally against the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade proposal.
  • FreedomWorks Foundation board member, Steve Forbes, is the publisher of Forbes magazine, which in 2009 named ExxonMobil the “green company of the year.”

Anti-Union Advocacy

FreedomWorks fiercely opposes unions and has led aggressive campaigns to thwart union membership and power by advocating for what they call “workplace freedom” legislation.

Opposition to the Affordable Care Act

In 2009, FreedomWorks organized town hall protests across the country in opposition to the Obama administration’s health care reform plan. 

Organizing Protests Against COVID-19 Safety Measures

  • In 2020, FreedomWorks helped organize protests against government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Protests against public health orders during the pandemic were often linked to disinformation campaigns, with some protests in 2020 turning violent
  • The group joined other conservative groups in launching the “Save Our Country Coalition” in April 2020, calling for the federal government to “immediately reopen the economy.” Their proposed solution was for the government to immediately cut spending and focus on “tax cuts, deregulation, and lawsuit reform.”
  • In April 2020, Politico released a leaked “confidential” document by FreedomWorks that instructed supporters to organize and attend protests against public health measures at their state capitols and governors’ mansions. Among other calls to action, the group encouraged protestors to “bring pink slips/eviction notices to leave at the Governor’s door.” 
  • The leaked document showed that FreedomWorks explicitly wanted to keep the appearance that these protests were grassroots, instructing individuals to keep their signs “homemade,” use messaging such as “let me feed my family,” “include religious leaders, nurses, healthcare workers, etc as much as possible,” and share their activities on social media.

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. 

Push to Remove Nonprofit Disclosure Requirements

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.  

Voter Suppression And Disinformation Campaigns

  • In 2020, The Washington Post reported that FreedomWorks targeted swing states with high concentrations of minority voters with disinformation about mail-in voting using a deceptive website called Protect My Vote. The Washington Post said FreedomWorks’ website and Facebook page “appear designed to tap existing anxiety about the integrity of the voting system to convince voters in swing states where minority turnout could be decisive that mail balloting is not reliable amid.”
  • Two months before the 2020 general election, FreedomWorks held an “election protection” training, where the organization fear-mongered that mail-in voting would enable widespread voter fraud and help Democrats win the upcoming elections. FreedomWorks encouraged the “over 80 grassroots activists” who flew in to become poll watchers and trained them on how to “counter the left’s scheme of voter fraud back in their home states.”
  • After Donald Trump left office in January 2021, FreedomWorks created an “election protection initiative” to investigate allegations of widespread voter fraud, with prominent election denier Cleta Mitchell at the helm. The program also mobilized against the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act of 2021, which would have majorly expanded voting rights.
  • In 2021, FreedomWorks invested at least $10 million to push voter suppression legislation in seven key states, according to The Guardian.

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:

  • FreedomWorks is attempting to push its free-market agenda in the Appropriations Committee. The group tweeted support for stonewalling lame-duck omnibus spending, which would freeze all appropriations spending at 2022 levels for the fiscal year 2023 – a goal for congressional Republicans.
  • FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity indicated that they would try to influence the Foreign Affairs Committee, as both groups have already called for scrutiny of aid to Ukraine.

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

  • Under the group’s arrangement with conservative businessman J. Patrick Rooney, brokers for the Medical Savings Insurance Co. sold high-deductible insurance plans and tax-free savings plans at a discount to customers who signed up as members of Citizens for a Sound Economy, FreedomWorks’ predecessor. 
  • A lawsuit against Medical Savings Insurance Co. accused the company and CSE of preying on customers who did not know what they were signing up for.

The group’s vice president defended the deal, saying it’s just how “nonprofits do their job.”

Americans for Prosperity

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.

State Policy Network

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.

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