WASHINGTON — Eased out with an $8 million payout provided by an influential Republican fundraiser, former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey says he has left the conservative tea party group FreedomWorks because of an internal split over the group's future direction.

A confidential contract obtained by The Associated Press shows that Armey agreed in September to resign from his role as chairman of Washington-based FreedomWorks in exchange for $8 million in consulting fees paid in annual $400,000 installments. Dated Sept. 24, the contract specifies that Armey would resign his position at both FreedomWorks and its sister organization, the FreedomWorks Foundation, by the end of November.

According to the contract, Armey's consulting fees will be paid by Richard J. Stephenson, a prominent fundraiser and founder and chairman of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, a national cancer treatment network. Stephenson is on the board of directors of FreedomWorks.

Armey's exit comes as a new sign of acrimony in conservative and Republican ranks as the party's bruised leadership struggles with its November electoral losses and uncertainty over how to recast its principles and issues to compete with an ascendant Democratic Party.

Armey confirmed his departure Tuesday, telling the AP that "my differences with FreedomWorks are a matter of principle." Armey said he made the decision to quit FreedomWorks in August, but Stephenson and other board members urged him not to leave until after the Nov. 6 election. Stephenson did not immediately respond to calls from AP for comment.

Armey would not describe his specific concerns, but he told Mother Jones magazine that the tea party group was moving in an unproductive direction. He also indicated dissatisfaction with the November election results, in which several GOP candidates supported by FreedomWorks Super PAC donations were beaten by Democratic Party rivals.

In an internal Nov. 30 resignation memo published by Mother Jones, Armey told FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe to remove his "name, image and signature" from all the group's materials and Web operations. Kibbe and other FreedomWorks officials were not immediately available for comment.

Armey, who had been with the tea party group since its 2004 founding, is a veteran Texas Republican Party political figure who was intimately involved in the GOP's conservative "Contract with America" congressional movement in the 1990s. While Armey, 72, was FreedomWorks' co-chairman and intellectual authority and at first, its public face, the younger Kibbe has been its most active official, appearing at the group's public gatherings.

FreedomWorks flourished after a wave of tea party House candidates swept into office in 2010, but despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to back favored GOP candidates in November, the group's influence appeared to wane at the polls. Among the GOP losers supported by FreedomWorks in November were Senate candidates Josh Mandel in Ohio, Connie Mack in Florida and Richard Mourdock in Indiana.

Overall, tea party-influenced House legislators fared better in the recent elections, though their ranks thinned. At least 83 of 87 members of the tea party-powered House GOP freshman class of 2010 ran for re-election to the House in November. All but 11 of them were returned to office while a twelfth, Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., faces an uphill runoff election this month against another GOP incumbent.

FreedomWorks' internal secrecy and its role as a high-financed super political action committee became an issue in the weeks before the election when federal campaign finance documents revealed that a shadowy Tennessee-based corporation had funneled seven donations totaling $5.28 million to the tea party group. The amount was the largest political contribution to a super PAC in 2012 from a business group that would not identify its donor, citing changes to campaign finance rules that allow more secretive donations.

FreedomWorks would not identify the anonymous donor, and a Tennessee lawyer who set up the apparent shell company, Specialty Group Inc., declined repeated requests for comment. The Tennessee firm changed its name to Specialty Investments Group Inc. on Nov. 28, although the group appears to advertise no product or service. ___

Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

___

Follow Jack Gillum on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jackgillum

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • '2nd Amendment Remedies'

    During Nevada's 2010 Senate election, an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/16/sharron-angle-floated-2nd_n_614003.html" target="_hplink">audio clip</a> surfaced of Sharron Angle <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/06/sharron_angle_floated_possibil.html" target="_hplink">raising</a> "Second Amendment remedies" as a viable solution to take when "government becomes out of control." The Tea Party-backed hopeful ultimately proved unsuccessful in her campaign to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

  • 'I Do Not Wear High Heels'

    Ken Buck, a Tea Party-backed contender who ultimately fell short in his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado, made headlines in 2010 when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/21/ken-buck-vote-for-me-beca_n_654990.html" target="_hplink">quipped</a> that people should vote for him "because I do not wear high heels."

  • 'I Am Not A Witch'

    Christine O'Donnell <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/04/christine-odonnell-witch-ad_n_750140.html" target="_hplink">captured headlines</a> in 2010 with a now-infamous campaign ad in which she tells voters, "I'm not a witch." She says, "I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you." O'Donnell was defeated in her campaign for Senate in Delaware by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons.

  • Scientists For Creationism?

    Rep. Michele Bachmann <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Damah0KH-Co&feature=player_embedded" target="_hplink">said</a> in October of 2006, "There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design."

  • Democrats = Communists?

    HuffPost's Jen Bendery <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/allen-west-democrats-communist-party_n_1417279.html" target="_hplink">reported</a> in April of this year: <blockquote>As many as 80 House Democrats are communists, according to Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). West warned constituents at a Tuesday town hall event that he's "heard" that dozens of his Democratic colleagues in the House are members of the Communist Party, the <em>Palm Beach Post</em> <a href=" http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/state/allen-west-hears-cheers-jeers-at-town-hall-2295766.html?cxtype=rss_news" target="_hplink">reported</a>. There are currently 190 House Democrats. West spokeswoman Angela Melvin later defended West's comments -- and clarified to whom West was referring. "The Congressman was referring to the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Communist Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies. The Progressive Caucus speaks for itself. These individuals certainly aren't proponents of free markets or individual economic freedom," Melvin said in a statement to The Huffington Post.

  • Welfare Prison Dorms?

    The AP <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/22/carl-paladino-backs-welfa_n_690284.html" target="_hplink">reported</a> in August of 2010 on then-New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino: <blockquote>Throughout his campaign, Paladino has criticized New York's rich menu of social service benefits, which he says encourages [undocumented] immigrants and needy people to live in the state. He has promised a 20 percent reduction in the state budget and a 10 percent income tax cut if elected. Asked at the meeting how he would achieve those savings, Paladino laid out several plans that included converting underused state prisons into centers that would house welfare recipients. There, they would do work for the state - "military service, in some cases park service, in other cases public works service," he said - while prison guards would be retrained to work as counselors. "Instead of handing out the welfare checks, we'll teach people how to earn their check. We'll teach them personal hygiene ... the personal things they don't get when they come from dysfunctional homes," Paladino said. ... Paladino told The Associated Press the dormitory living would be voluntary, not mandatory, and would give welfare recipients an opportunity to take public, state-sponsored jobs far from home. "These are beautiful properties with basketball courts, bathroom facilities, toilet facilities. Many young people would love to get the hell out of cities," Paladino he said. He also defended his hygiene remarks, saying he had trained inner-city troops in the Army and knows their needs. "You have to teach them basic things - taking care of themselves, physical fitness. In their dysfunctional environment, they never learned these things," he said.</blockquote>