The High Cost of FreedomWorks
"The arrangement was simply FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck money and Glenn Beck said nice things about FreedomWorks on the air," Armey, the former House majority leader, told Media Matters Friday. "I saw that a million dollars went to Beck this past year, that was the annual expenditure."
Armey, who left the organization this past fall after a dispute over its internal operations, said a similar arrangement was also in place with Rush Limbaugh, but did not know the exact financial details.
"I put it down now as basically as paid advertising for FreedomWorks by Beck," Armey said, calling it a mistake.
Media Matters contacted Armey after Mother Jones magazine published a leaked copy of the document FreedomWorks prepared for its Winter 2012 board of directors meeting. That document alluded to "embedded media programs" for fundraising that featured the two conservative radio hosts and claimed that fundraising efforts featuring them raised nearly $1.3 million in 2012, not including event ticket sales from third-party vendors.
From the leaked FreedomWorks document:
Mother Jones further reported that the organization "plans to continue its financial support for Glenn Beck's media enterprise, including sharing a TV studio with and leasing office space to the Washington bureau of The Blaze, Beck's website and TV network."
Armey said he was told of the Beck arrangement when it first began, but that it would only cost the organization about $250,000 a year. " Once that was approved by the trustees, it then took on a life of its own, it got bigger than we understood it to be. All of a sudden it was we are paying Limbaugh as well as Beck." FreedomWorks did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Beck has been reading on-air appeals for FreedomWorks since at least April 2010. In June of that year, Media Matters reported that the organization was using Beck's endorsement to raise money. Politico highlighted the relationship as an example of a conservative group "paying hefty sponsorship fees to the popular talk show hosts" in exchange for "regular on-air plugs." The FreedomWorks document leaked to Mother Jones states that their fundraising relationship with Limbaugh began in 2012.
According to Armey, such programs are ineffective.
"If Limbaugh and Beck, if we were using those resources to recruit activists and inform activists and to encourage and enthuse activists, that's one thing," Armey explained. "If we are using these things to raise money; one, it's a damned expensive way to raise money; and two, it makes raising money an end on to itself not an instrumental activity to support the foundation work that our organization does."
Armey also said the relationship with Beck expanded to include rallies that were co-sponsored by Beck and FreedomWorks, and included appearances by FreedomWorks President and CEO Matt Kibbe.
Armey said he objected to these events, dubbed FreePACs, because they often charged admission to FreedomWorks activists.
A review of promotional information for the events found $20 was a standard donation requested at some of the locations, while a Dallas, TX., FreePAC last summer charged prices as high as $971.
"You don't charge activists to attend rallies. I would consider that wholly inappropriate behavior," Armey said. "There was a lot of resentment on the part of the activists. They would naturally expect that they are providing the activist power and think that they have a right to attend."
"The principal value to anyone from the relationship with Beck was Matt Kibbe, who got to share Beck's stage with him," Armey said, adding that he found out about the July 2012 Dallas rally after his name was already being used to promote it.
"They put out an email under my name that had more information than I had," he recalled. "That is why when I resigned I had them cease and desist using my name."
Armey said he began looking into the specifics of the Beck and Limbaugh arrangements last year after hearing from others in the organization that such activities were being done without his knowledge.
"I had come to the point where I don't know how much we are spending on Beck and Limbaugh, but we are spending too damn much and we are getting too little value out of it," Armey said. "It was something I only found out about after inquiring into the affairs in September or October.
"Starting in January of last year, in that general neighborhood, what we had was a pattern that Kibbe got into a pattern of consistently working out arrangements with people without telling me what he was doing," Armey added. "They had people issue directives, 'don't tell Armey about this.' I had people close to me saying there is something fishy here, you better look into it."
Armey pointed out that any reports of revenue raised through the Beck and Limbaugh arrangements does not take into account the money paid to them in the deal.
"It is like federal budgeting," he said. "We count the receipts we get from people who have sent in money, and we, meaning they, I am not a part of it anymore, do not count what the funds that are laying out are. They don't say, we paid Beck a million dollars and we had this program where we raised $300,000, you had a net cost of $600,000, or whatever the numbers are."
But don't expect those payments to end: FreedomWorks' leaked 2013 budget plan includes "Glenn Beck Radio Ads," "Blenn Beck TV," "TheBlaze Action Center," and the "Rush Limbaugh Contract."