FreedomWorks is a “grassroots freedom movement” that is “passionate about promoting free markets and individual liberty.” FreedomWorks was founded in 1984 as Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was co-founded by David Koch and split into two groups – FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity – in 2004. Former House majority leader Dick Armey became the co-chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy in 2003 and stayed with FreedomWorks when CSE split up. FreedomWorks claimed “over 6 million Americans” as members. As of March 2016, the president and CEO of FreedomWorks was Adam Brandon.
Rising to prominence with the Tea Party wave in 2009, FreedomWorks focused on issues including “red tape, hidden taxes & regulation” and “workplace freedom.” The organization has stated that “Obamacare is proving to be an unmitigated disaster” and that unions “continue to push for increased political power…at the expense of workers and businesses.” In 2013, FreedomWorks claimed that seniors were “trapped in Medicare.”
In 2016, former Virginia Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli announced that he was taking on the role of general counsel for the FreedomWorks Foundation. Cuccinelli described the main thrust of his job as “helping state attorneys general around the country combat overreaching federal regulations.” This was in line with what he did as Virginia’s Attorney General, when he sued the federal government over the Affordable Care Act literally minutes after President Obama signed the bill into law.
Funding & Spending
According to the Guardian, FreedomWorks counted as some of its primary backers “the tobacco conglomerate Philip Morris” and businessman Richard Scaife, who “helped fund dirt-digging investigations into Bill Clinton.” Former Philip Morris science director Tom Borelli, who has claimed that “environmental tobacco smoke has not been shown to be a risk factor in the development of lung cancer,” was hired by FreedomWorks in 2012 as a Senior Fellow. Scaife, who died in 2014, “donated millions” to FreedomWorks and other “tea party” groups.
In the weeks before the 2012 presidential election, the FreedomWorks super PAC received $12 million in donations funneled through a pair of Tennessee corporations affiliated with Cancer Treatment Centers of America founder Richard J. Stephenson. According to the Washington Post, Stephenson had also “agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years” in exchange for then-chairman Dick Armey’s resignation from the group. FreedomWorks also received $100,000 that election cycle from Friess Associates, led by Foster Friess, the Rick Santorum supporter who said of women’s health care, “Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” Aside from Stephenson and Friess, FreedomWorks’ donor base includes a significant number of individual “major gift” donors; documents obtained by Mother Jones showed that individual donors made up $31 million of the $41 million in contributions received by FreedomWorks in 2012.
The FreedomWorks super PAC spent $19 million in the 2012 election cycle, including on the election of “winning upstart” Ted Cruz. Cruz was also the group’s “favorite” presidential candidate in 2016. As of April 2016, the group had spent more than $318,000 on independent expenditures for the 2016 election cycle, including almost $93,000 in support of Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).
One of FreedomWorks’ biggest issues was the Affordable Care Act. They referred to the law on their website as a “disaster,” saying, “it should be replaced with free-market, patient-centered reforms.” FreedomWorks started a “Burn Your ObamaCare Card” campaign as a “metaphor for the compulsory recruitment of Americans” by comparing the health care law with mandatory military service; because “ObamaCare cards” don’t exist, FreedomWorks filmed students burning “mock draft cards” in a vacant parking lot. The organization has claimed that “ObamaCare” would destroy the craft brewery market through nutrition information requirements, and wrote in their blog that “if we all have the right to health care, then using that logic we should all have the right to drive and own a Mercedes.”
FreedomWorks opposes Social Security, having called it “structurally bankrupt and politically corrupt.” FreedomWorks blog posts have accused the Obama administration of working with the AARP to “prey on seniors” and of keeping seniors “trapped in Medicare.” FreedomWorks has written that “Americans experience real prosperity only when the power of the market is unleashed.”
In 2016, a key issue for FreedomWorks was the vacancy on the Supreme Court, which FreedomWorks said should not be filled by an Obama nominee. In service of this stance, FreedomWorks announced that they would “wage a grass-roots effort” to ensure that the Senate refuses to hold hearings on nominee Merrick Garland.