An article published online this week by Washingtonian magazine catches up with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey on his ranch in Texas. The whole thing is worth a read, but of particular interest is the article’s account of the frantic days in September during which Armey attempted to take over the conservative group FreedomWorks, before eventually agreeing to retire in exchange for $8 million.
According to the article, things between Armey and Matt Kibbe, one-time allies during FreedomWorks’ early days, came to a head over in late summer, after a multi-day FreedomWorks retreat at a luxury hotel in Wyoming. There, Armey “saw signs of his reduced standing everywhere.” Kibbe was the face of the event. And there, Armey was given a document to sign, which would certify that no “significant FreedomWorks resources” were used in the writing of Kibbe’s book Hostile Takeover, and that Kibbe was “the sole author and copyright owner.” Armey now maintains that Kibbe did use FreedomWorks resources to write the book:
Diverting nonprofit resources for personal use is a violation of federal tax code. If Kibbe had used “significant staff resources” to produce his book, he would have put FreedomWorks’ tax-exempt status at risk. Kibbe, Armey says, “had put the organization in jeopardy, and he had done it to line his own pockets.”
Armey went to Maine after that to show the document to C. Boydon Gray, FreedomWorks’ third trustee (along with Armey and Kibbe) and a former Whie House counsel. On Sept. 4, 2012, Armey and Gray called a special meeting of the group’s three-person board. At the meeting, Armey and Gray voted to remove Kibbe from the group’s board, and put Kibbe and Adam Brandon — another FreedomWorks executive — on leave.
The same day, Armey called his assistant, Jean Campbell, at the FreedomWorks office and instructed her to secure the office. Armey was worried Kibbe’s allies would destroy documents related to the book deal, according to Washingtonian. Campbell got employees away from their computers and into the conference room. An armed ex-Capitol Police officer accompanied her. (That officer was identified back in December as Beau Singleton.) According to Washingtonian, many at FreedomWorks had trouble accepting Armey:
To the young staffers, Armey seemed ill suited to run the organization. He put three additional FreedomWorks employees on administrative leave but–when they broke down in tears–immediately reinstated them. Staffers say he referred to a Japanese employee with a ponytail as “that Indian fella.” (Armey denies this.) And when Armey kicked his cowboy boots up on a table in Kibbe’s office, that was it. “It was kind of like, ‘Well, I’ll be damned if this is going to happen,’ ” a young employee says.
Kibbe and Brandon, meanwhile, began trying to build up support among FreedomWorks donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders. Kibbe “loyalists” met for a meal at Kibbe’s home, and younger staffers began using their cell phones to record conversations with Armey or Campbell.
The day after the takeover, Armey travelled to Colorado for a donor event. On the way back, he and his wife stopped in Chicago, to visit Richard Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a major FreedomWorks backer:
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.
Armey passed by Kibbe in adjacent room after the meeting with Stephenson, but did not speak with him. The next day, Gray met with Armey, and said that Stephenson would pay Armey $8 million — spread out over 20 years — to retire. Armey agreed. Kibbe and Brandon returned to the FreedomWorks office the same day.