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FreedomWorks, cross purposes, and lies

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FreedomWorks, which (as everyone supposed) carried the conservative standard for twenty years, is no more. Its twelve-member Board of Directors voted this week to cease all operations. Wednesday (May 8) was the last day, though the organization’s 25 employees will continue to receive pay and health benefits for several more months, according to Politico. Adam Brandon, its President and CEO, fired at least two Parthian shots at Donald Trump on his way out. These were an interview with Politico, blaming Trump for his troubles, and an op-ed on RealClearPolitics announcing a “new realignment.” (CNAV published his op-ed, which RealClearWire, RCP’s free, term-less syndication service, offered in its line-up.) But FreedomWorks insiders tell another story – of ideological betrayal (by Brandon himself) and fiscal mismanagement – or “organizational suicide.” In fact, Brandon will likely announce a successor organization, with Never-Trump values.

FreedomWorks current status

FreedomWorks began in 1984, and in 2004 split from the Koch Brothers’ network. But two different FreedomWorks sites exist, and one seems to have nothing to do with the other. The organization that the Center for Public Integrity profiled in 2012 calls itself FreedomWorks for America and resides at this link. That site apparently has seen no update since the spring of 2023. But the site that Adam Brandon ran until this week has the simpler name FreedomWorks, at this link. They also have a YouTube channel, and a separate Foundation.

The About page lists the latest draft of the FreedomWorks message:

FreedomWorks exists to mobilize the center right and politically homeless in America who do not feel their values of limited government, social tolerance, and individual liberty are being represented in political discourse today.

We seek to restore common sense and competence to public policy and American political life.

Our vision is for a future where growth and prosperity results in opportunity for all Americans.

In addition, Adam Brandon left this personal message under his by-line:

FreedomWorks members know that government goes to those who show up. That’s why we give them the tools to break through the media noise and provide the same access to Washington as the big-moneyed lobbyists. Preserving liberty depends on all Americans having access to their elected officials—not just special interests. FreedomWorks holds Washington accountable to the citizens that put them in office. Join Us.

The FreedomWorks home page still looks like an active page, with no announcement whatsoever of its closing. The last entries on their News page are dated Tuesday, May 7. In fact they’re still advertising an “American Debt Crisis Tour” and still have their joining form up. And as your editor watched, donations rolled in, typically five dollars or more each.

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Why is the site accepting donations to an entity that has ceased operations? Why is the site still accepting online applications for admission? The answers to these and several other questions are simply not available.CNAV has reached out to FreedomWorks using its Contact form.Any present or former employee of FreedomWorks is welcome to provide them, in our comment space.

How much have they spent?

OpenSecrets maintains its own profile on FreedomWorks. That profile lists $305,685 in contributions since 1990, $8,437,457 in lobbying expenses since 1998, and $21,843,300 in “outside spending” since 2000. A spot check of spending by cycle shows that FreedomWorks spent substantial sums to support the separate group FreedomWorks for America, in the 2012, 2014, and 2020 election cycles. By far the group’s heaviest spending was in the 2012 election cycle, the oldest for which OpenSecrets makes records available. In 2018 the group reported no contributions whatsoever. And in 2024 it reported a single $500 contribution, by an individual, to the campaign of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Miss.).

The FreedomWorks foundation lists no activity since 2022. But it, too, seems to be accepting donations at time of writing.

Coverage of FreedomWorks and its shutdown

The best primary-source coverage of FreedomWorks and its shutdown comes from three sources. David Weigel at Semafor gave what tries to be a balanced report. Weigel takes some of his insight from Politico but contributes at least some insight of his own. According to Weigel, FreedomWorks has always been libertarian in bent. Donald Trump, by contrast, is an economic nationalist – and thus advocates tariffs, to protect domestic industry and enhance national security. Both concepts are foreign to libertarians, who seem to embrace globalization without globalism. That is, they wouldn’t care to follow the dictates of a one-world government – but neither do they recognize the threat of just such tyranny that globalism poses.

Weigel speaks of the “victory of right-wing populism over big-tent libertarianism.” He also speaks of the group’s attempt, in 2023, to rebrand itself to appeal to independents and “centrists,” not conservatives. The problem, according to Weigel and the witnesses who talked to him, is that the independents didn’t trust FreedomWorks. FreedomWorks had worked to elect Republicans, and the independents wanted nothing to do with them on that ground alone. Most rank-and-file Republicans today follow Trump – and Trump advocates immigration restriction, in addition to tariffs.

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The Politico stories

Politico has two major stories on FreedomWorks. Between them they offer a comprehensive narrative – but one with a leftist slant that compromises its accuracy. Last year they covered the attempted rebrand. They included this Letter to Donors and Staff from Brandon, dated July of 2023 – after the disastrous 2022 Midterms.

Brandon obviously drew the wrong lesson from that election. The Republicans lost because they didn’t try hard enough – and many among them actively sabotaged the effort. Brandon didn’t see that – or perhaps, for his own reasons, sought to hide it. He said the conservative base was “not large enough to win elections,” and that independents would be decisive. (Brandon would sound that same theme in his Parthian-shot op-ed.)

Brandon relied heavily on this quote from Ed Crane, founder of the CATO Institute, from 1985.

I think there is a broadly defined libertarianism among yuppies [Young Upwardly-mobile Professionals]. They have a broadly tolerant view on social issues, [and] a deep skepticism of government control of the economy. The parties split those concerns. So where do you go?

Then Brandon said,

The yuppies of 1985 are today’s independents who dominate the districts up for grabs in today’s world.

That’s flatly impossible. When you are young, if you are not “socially tolerant,” you have no heart. But as you get older, if you do not at the same time turn conservative, you have no brain. Everyone knows this. Yuppies, by definition, are young. That most of them should never have learned the folly of “tolerance” of abortion, adultery, and Alphabet Soup-ism in the nearly forty years since that quote, strains credulity. If that worldview were true, the United States Supreme Court would never have overturned Roe as it did.

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Faulty statistics

Brandon also quoted a Gallup Poll from April 2023, that alleged that Americans broke down as 34 percent Republican, 41 percent independent, and 27 percent Democratic. He showed a set of proportional bar graphs showing these proportions by cycle, from 2019 to 2023. According to those, the “Independent” portion grew at the expense of the other two. Two observations are relevant here. First, Brandon included no other “crosstabs” in his quote of the Gallup Poll result. Second, Gallup Polls skew left, and always have. (The fictitious Gallup Poll result in 1964’s Seven Days in May, showing a President with a 29 percent approval rating after he signed a mutual disarmament pact with the old Soviet Union, has no sound basis – and in any case, is a plot device, not a fact with solid evidence.)

In any case, Brandon sought to justify tolerance of abortion, adultery, and Alphabet Soup-ism – things his Politico interviewers all support. Never once did he consider working for a Second (Third?) Great Awakening – and obviously he wouldn’t want that. In fact he assumes that attitudes toward social customs, morals, and government size are static. In July of 2023, he might excuse himself for thinking that. After October 7, 2023, and Antisemitic Student Demonstration Time, that won’t fly. He either doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand that.

A tissue of lies

And on Wednesday, Politico published the story that too many other organs simply copied – though at least David Weigel tried to be original. This covers the actual shutdown – and bases itself entirely on interviews with Brandon and sympathetic directors. They all blame one man: Trump. The rebrand did not succeed. Money dried up, even before the rebrand, and especially after it. All this, they lay to Trump, who, they said, changed the game to make “social tolerance” unfashionable. Brandon did not explicitly blame Trump in his op-ed. But he did insist that independents, not moral philosophy, would govern from now on.

Of course, the worst weakness of his position is that he identifies “Generation Z” and “Millennials” as the group that will hold the balance now and in future. Again, that assumes that no one gets out of the young-and-stupid phase of political and social thinking. To be sure, some leftists will never change; consider Rob “Meathead” Reiner of All in the Family fame. But he is the exception. Alan Brandon will never acknowledge that he proposes to build a movement of Meatheads.

But that’s not the worst problem. Benjamin Wetmore of The Gateway Pundit tells us that in fact, Adam Brandon told Politico a tissue of lies.

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FreedomWorks witnesses lay bare the lies

Wetmore’s witnesses refer to FreedomWorks laying off 40 percent of its staff in March 2023. But that was not downsizing in response to donation dry-up, but an ideological purge of Trump supporters. In fact Brandon admitted that following Trump’s consistent political and moral philosophy would have drawn the donors. Instead he chose to embrace the climate change panic and the abortion culture.

Brandon has wrung Non-Disclosure Agreements from all remaining staff. One ranking executive broke his, at least in spirit, by talking to Wetmore on background. Others identified themselves readily, almost proudly. All are thoroughly disgusted with Brandon, whom they consider a poor manager and a worse liar. Like Merissa Hamilton, former Grassroots Director, who said:

The Politico story is simply not true. The collapse of FreedomWorks wasn’t a rift between MAGA and non-MAGA; it was colossal bad management by CEO Adam Brandon who created a toxic internal culture and who doesn’t understand voters or donors.

Or the background source:

This was an organizational suicide. Big donors and an Anti-Trump board made this all happen on purpose…. Adam Brandon and his allies willfully orchestrated the means to end this organization. Adam had his priorities the entire time on starting another organization to succeed FreedomWorks, spent money on frivolous things, alienated donors, took money from the wrong donors, and alienated our grassroots networks. Adam’s been fleecing FreedomWorks from 2022 to present to build a parallel organization.

From the same source:

The prostitution for big donors at FreedomWorks and in many conservative groups, regardless of what they believe, was just staggering. It’s just disgusting. It’s all about whoring yourself out for the money. It doesn’t matter what the small donors say, they just cater to big donors who are obsessed with Nikki Haley.

The source also cited several instances of poor financial decisions. Worst of all was hiring an inexperienced person to take charge of fundraising. Other bad decisions included overpaying for short telephone lists, and spending money on anti-Trump activism – under false pretenses.

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Brandon told Politico he plans to found a new organization. The disgruntled insiders told Wetmore that he wanted to shut down FreedomWorks to transfer its assets to the new group. This group, with the working name Center for Independence, will use the leftist-oriented ChatGPT, plus a home-developed A.I. entity, to reach out to black Americans on “libertarian principles.”

Shortchanging of staff

And those 25 employees remaining? Politico said they will receive salary and health benefits for an unspecified time. If FreedomWorks follows the usual procedure on severance, that could amount to six months. But many have reimbursements due them – reimbursements that, according to Wetmore’s witnesses, they will likely never receive.

Analysis

FreedomWorks, under Adam Brandon’s leadership, has veered left. Last winter, Adam Brandon published another essay to RCP to extol the virtues of “the independent voter.” He spoke eloquently – but facilely – of “working both sides of the aisle.” This closing statement was downright insulting:

The candidate who shows they are up for the challenge of rejecting extremism, reaching across the aisle, and having adult conversations with these voters can win.

Adult conversations? That implies that those who hold to principles, and know which principles do not allow compromise, are not talking on an adult level.

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-Ariz.)

It’s facile to observe that Goldwater lost. But Trump, copying Goldwater, won in 2016 and, properly speaking, in 2020. He will win again, for the same reason Richard M. Nixon won:

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There’s a riot going on – Student Demonstration Time! The Beach Boys

And taking money under false pretenses is no way to win. Nor is appealing to youth just because they are youth, and assuming that those youth will never grow up. Again, some won’t. But most will. And it ill befits any conservative organization to sing the Lost Boys’ I Won’t Grow Up number from Peter Pan. That, even more than financial mismanagement – or ideological embezzlement – is FreedomWorks’ worst sin.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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