Armey and his wife stopped at the Chicago home of Richard Stephenson on their way back to Washington. A reclusive millionaire who had founded the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Stephenson was a big FreedomWorks donor and Kibbe’s strongest ally on the board of directors.
When Armey arrived, Stephenson introduced a therapist who he suggested could mediate Armey and Kibbe’s dispute. Armey didn’t know it, but Kibbe had flown in from Washington and was waiting in another room. “If you think you’re going to therapize me into working with Matt Kibbe again, you’re kidding yourself,” Armey told the therapist.
He had previously told Stephenson that the allegedly rerouted media requests gave him a legal case against FreedomWorks for tortuous interference. He calculated damages at $8 million—the potential earnings Armey felt he’d sacrificed by staying at FredeeomWorks. (The figure is based mostly on Armey’s $750,000 annual contract with DLA Piper, which his position at FreedomWorks forced him to give up.)
Either Kibbe goes or I go, Armey said. “And if I go, I’m going to have to sue. I can’t go away with empty pockets.”
As Armey left, he saw Kibbe sitting on a couch in an adjacent room. Neither said a word.
The next afternoon, C. Boyden Gray summoned Armey to his Washington office: Stephenson was willing to pay Armey $8 million to retire. The deal would be arranged as a consulting contract between Armey and Stephenson, payable in annual installments of $400,000 over 20 years. In return, the trustees would reinstate Kibbe as FreedomWorks president and Armey would leave the organization after the election.
Kibbe and Brandon were back in the office by the end of the day and spent the next few weeks settling scores, former staffers say. They labeled employees who had been helpful to Armey as “collaborators” and stripped them of authority. Kibbe promoted two young staffers who had remained loyal to him during the crisis, and he donated his $50,000 book advance to FreedomWorks. (Brandon denies punishing employees and says all promotions were merit-based.)
• • •
Armey returned to his Texas ranch not as the commanding general of the Tea Party but as a retired civilian. He starts each day with a series of finger exercises to help him recover from a hand condition that required minor surgery. Then it’s on to the Wii Fit for a workout. The rest of the day is open. He might visit his grandchildren, look after his horses, or do chores. Occasionally, a reporter calls for his thoughts on the political issue of the moment.
Armey says he spends a lot of time thinking about the book he plans to write. It’s part autobiography, part economic-policy treatise. “If you’re going to write a book that really seriously deals with substantive ideas,” he says, “you got to spend probably five, six hours a day daydreaming about that before committing words to paper.”
He insists he doesn’t miss the action in Washington. “I’ve got so much going on right now over the book that I don’t sleep as well, because I wake up with my head full of ideas.”
When he thinks about his $8-million payout, he can’t resist laughing: “I got an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Meanwhile, FreedomWorks is struggling. Key staffers and board members have fled, and first-quarter fundraising has slipped. Things may get even worse. Two watchdog groups have asked federal authorities to examine $12 million in suspicious donations that FreedomWorks received right before the election.
(Brandon says everything is just fine. “We haven’t had to lay anybody off,” he says, adding that FreedomWorks has sold 16,000 tickets to an upcoming event.)
Following the disastrous 2012 election, public support for the Tea Party has crumbled, and establishment GOP figures such as Karl Rove have launched initiatives to prevent less electable Tea Party candidates from winning primary campaigns. At its most recent tax-day rally at the Capitol, the crowd numbered in the dozens—a turnout that recalled FreedomWorks’ early days. Now, more than ever, the movement could use a pair of battle-hardened activists.
This article appears in the July 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.