"Grassroots" FreedomWorks paid Armey $400,000 for part-time job
Former House Majority Leader turned lobbyist Dick Armey resigned from the lobbying firm of DLA Piper on Friday amid criticism of his leadership role in FreedomWorks, one of the main right wing groups organizing town hall mobs against health care reform.
Armey probably wasn't spending that much time at DLA Piper anyway. He earned a total of $400,000 from FreedomWorks and the FreedomWorks Foundation during the 2007 tax year, according to tax records. The records say that Armey was putting in 36 hours per week at Freedom Works and the Freedom Works Foundation. (This is original reporting. Please support Majikthise by crediting.)
One wonders whether Armey had much time left over for his lobbying clients at DLA Piper that year, which included pharma giant Sanofi-Aventis and the Medicines Co.. Armey represented Sanofi again in 2008 and continued to represent the Medicines Co. through 2009.
The former Republican congressman told Politico he was resigning because he didn't want his lobbying clients to face media scrutiny for their association with FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks has been accused of laying down astroturf at town halls. The protesters are real people, but the town hall protests are organized by Freedom Works and other groups underwritten by industries with a financial stake in derailing healthcare reform.
Defenders say there's nothing wrong with grassroots organizing. Grassroots groups often make common cause with other interested parties, including corporations. However, it's telling that Armey thinks his clients need to be shielded from criticism of FreedomWorks, as if were something shameful.
Pro-reform, pro-Democratic groups like the SEIU, ACORN, MoveOn, and Organizing for America proudly identify themselves at town hall meetings. They make no secret of the fact that they are part of a national movement with powerful institutional backers.
Nor is it a secret that big pharma and big insurance have given heavily to influential Democrats like Max Baucus over the years. Hedging your bets is a grand old tradition in Washington. The way things are going, the money to Democrats may turn out to have been better-spent.
The backers of the town hall mobs are trying to paint these gatherings as spontaneous, organic uprisings as opposed to what they really are, events coordinated by Washington insiders on behalf of corporate clients. A recent posts on FreedomWorks' blog assails Democratic health for being a product of pharmaceutical and insurance money! It is, but it's odd to hear FreedomWorks complaining.
Why wouldn't pharmaceutical and insurance companies be proud to stand with patriotic Americans against government-administered health insurance? Probably because protesters at town hall meetings are saying and doing things that no "respectable" lobbyist would want to associate with his clients.
Like the town hall attendee in New Hampshire who recommended sending immigrants home with a bullet in the head, or right wing TV personality Glenn Beck who draws parallels between Obama's health care reform efforts and Nazi eugenics. Beck is promoting FreedomWorks' 9/12 DC march on his show and heading up his own 912 Project.
This is all protected speech, of course. However, if corporations and lobby shops are funding and facilitating these types of actions, they need to be held accountable for what's happening. Any demonstration can attract the odd extremist, but these town hall meetings have established an ongoing pattern of ugly, disruptive behavior.
These firms are entitled to give, but they'd better tell us what their people are doing to keep these events from becoming platforms for hate mongers. Are their people trying to keep order, or are they standing by as protesters shout down Democratic legislators and derail the conversation?
If DLA Piper's clients are concerned about allegations that they are supporting ugly rabble rousing in the name of grassroots participation, Armey's departure shouldn't get them off the hook. DLA Piper's website bill the law firm as "one of the world’s leading legal services providers, representing companies and investors in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device fields."
DLA Piper's lobbying practice also boasts of its "grassroots" organizing capabilities on its website: "The practice utilizes an array of strategies to support a client's goals, including grassroots campaigns, educational initiatives and media outreach." It's common for real grassroots and member-supported organizations to hire lobbyists. However, a glance at DLA Piper's register of paying lobby clients reveals few, if any grassroots groups. The firm advertises that it does some pro-bono work for grassroots groups, but none of the groups listed has an obvious connection to healthcare or town halls.
In general, if a giant corporation pays a former Congressman's lobbying firm to drum up grassroots support, the term "grassroots" loses all meaning. At that point it's not grassroots organizing, its demagoguery--especially if they are willing to make common cause with those who claim the president is an advocate of Nazi-style euthanasia of the elderly.