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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FreedomWorks for America

playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: Conservative/tea party

Spending target: Unknown

FreedomWorks for America is a super PAC formed in July 2011. It’s a project of FreedomWorks Inc., a conservative 501(c)(4) advocacy group that helped foster the tea party movement.

Matt Kibbe is the president and chief executive of the parent advocacy organization, FreedomWorks Inc. In 2010, Newsweek called FreedomWorks “one of the driving forces in Tea Party politics” and Kibbe “one of its masterminds.” Kibbe built the group’s tea party persona along with former Texas Rep. Dick Armey, who served as the organization’s chairman until a dispute between the two men led Armey to resign in December 2012. Robert T.E. Lansing, principal, chairman and chief executive officer of the Westminster Funds, replaced Armey as the organization’s chairman. The organizational shakeup also included the resignations of two board members, James Burnley IV and C. Boyden Gray.

Russ Walker, a former vice chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, is the PAC’s national political director and treasurer. He has been with the parent organization, FreedomWorks, for more than 14 years, since it was known as Citizens for a Sound Economy.

With the agenda of “lower taxes, less government, and more freedom,” FreedomWorks played a significant role as an early benefactor of the tea party movement. Its super PAC — which may legally raise and spend unlimited amounts of money — shares the political agenda of its parent organization but focuses on campaigning for or against congressional candidates. The group targets for defeat vulnerable Democrats in general elections and Republicans it sees as insufficiently conservative in primaries.

During the 2012 election cycle, FreedomWorks for America raised $23.5 million and spent $22.6 million. Early in the cycle, it spent $945,373 trying to deny GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah his party’s nomination. Hatch was forced into a primary after failing to secure enough votes at the state’s GOP convention to win the nomination outright. However, Hatch easily won the primary in June 2012 and retained his seat in the November general election. FreedomWorks for America also spent just under $2 million in support of Richard Mourdock, a tea party favorite, during the primary and general Senate elections in Indiana. Mourdock defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary, but lost in the general election.

FreedomWorks for America also used its funds in the general election against several Democratic incumbent senators, including Bill Nelson of Florida, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio — all of whom won. It spent $2.2 million in an unsuccessful bid to defend Republican Joe Walsh’s House seat in Illinois’ 8th Congressional District. Democrat Tammy Duckworth defeated Walsh, who was described by the Chicago Sun-Times as “a favorite of National Tea Party activists.”

Although the group never formally endorsed Mitt Romney, FreedomWorks for America spent $621,913 against President Obama in the 2012 presidential campaign.

More than half of FreedomWorks for America’s 2012 contributions came from two companies: Specialty Group Inc. ($10,575,000) and Kingston Pike Development LLC ($1,500,000). Specialty Group Inc. (renamed Specialty Investments Group Inc. after the 2012 election) and Kingston Pike Development LLC are both owned by William S. Rose, a Knoxville, Tenn., attorney without a history of making such large donations. The two companies were registered with the Tennessee secretary of state within a day of each other, in late September 2012.

It remains to be seen how active the super PAC will be in the 2014 campaign cycle. In its year-end report, FreedomWorks for America disclosed that in 2013 it spent nearly $1.1 million and raised about $850,000, ending the year with $600,000 in cash on hand. But the PAC spent more on legal fees (in excess of $300,000) than it did on independent expenditures (about $134,000) in support of or opposition to federal candidates, as reported on its mid-year and year-end reports.

As of May 31, FreedomWorks for America had spent more than $1.3 million. The biggest chunk of that money was spent to help Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a tea party candidate who lost a Republican primary to longtime Sen. Thad Cochran. FreedomWorks spent about $463,000 in a failed attempt to deny Cochran the party’s nomination.

FreedomWorks for America also spent $302,761 in an unsuccessful attempt to deny Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky. The group spent more than $300,000 against McConnell and in support of his challenger, Matt Bevin. The largest single donor to FreedomWorks, as of May 31, was David Richard Masson of Versailles, Kentucky, who donated $100,000 to the super PAC. Masson, who owns Golden Age Farm in Versailles, also gave the individual maximum of $2,600 to Bevin’s candidate committee.

The super PAC also has spent money to unseat five Democratic senators up for reelection in 2014: Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. All five are considered vulnerable in the upcoming election.