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Anatomy of the Tea Party Movement: FreedomWorks

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Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit

FreedomWorks, formed in 2004 through the union of Citizens for a Sound Economy and Empower America, two conservative think tanks. A year before that merger, an ugly schism within CSE produced another splinter group, Americans for Prosperity. Oil billionaire David Koch founded Citizens for a Sound Economy and went on to start Americans for Prosperity, while FreedomWorks became more of an independent offspring. Koch is the billionaire co-owner of Koch Industries, the largest privately-held oil company in America.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's American Solutions for Winning the Future has been on the scene since 2007. Last year, the organization fought to expand offshore drilling. The campaign was dubbed "Drill Here, Drill Now" but is better known as "Drill, Baby, Drill." American Solutions for Winning the Future and an online movement known as #DontGo both began their pro-drilling campaigns around the same time, in August of last year. Gingrich and American Solutions also lobbied for coal and advocated for tax breaks for coal companies. Such acts directly benefited Peabody, the world's largest private-sector coal company, which donated at least $500,000 to ASWF in 2008 and 2009.

FreedomWorks, currently headed by former US House Majority Leader Dick Armey, has advocated for corporate interests since its inception. In December of 2005, Armey appeared on CNBC to lobby for a company known as RX Outreach, which is run by a company called Express Scripts, a mail-order prescription drug program for the poor. A week later FreedomWorks put out a press release praising RX Outreach. It was later revealed that FreedomWorks worked with Express Scripts's public relations firm and that Express Scripts planned to donate money to FreedomWorks, which critics charge may call into question the group's tax-exempt status.

Recently Armey had to step down from his job at lobbying firm DLA Piper, when it was suggested that his ardent opposition to health insurance reform might be influenced by DLA clients such as Metropolitan Health Networks, a "leading provider of health care services to people with Medicare in Florida", drug manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis and the American Council of Life Insurers.

FreedomWorks and #DontGo are credited with initially taking the reins of the Tea Party movement. #DontGo was founded by Eric Odom and Allen Fuller in Chicago in the summer of 2008. Odom eventually dubbed himself the executive director of American Liberty Alliance, shortly after he began organizing Tea Parties in February. Though FreedomWorks only appears on the Tea Party Patriots website, it supported both the Tea Party Patriots and the Tea Party Express this past summer. FreedomWorks's Florida Outreach Director Tom Gaitens manages the Tea Party Patriots email list.

In April, Paul Krugman attacked FreedomWorks for "manufacturing" protests. Brendan Steinhauser of Freedomworks responded:

If journalists actually did their job, did some journalism and reporting, and talked to local organizers, they'd see that this is a grassroots movement... If Paul Krugman doesn't want to believe me, that's fine. But this came from the ground up.

Yet on February 9, 2009, two months prior to that statement and ten days before Rick Santelli's rant, Steinhauser set up a pre-Tea Party. He contacted Mary Rakovich of Florida, who had attended a FreedomWorks training session, and recommended that she organize a protest in response to President Obama's visit to Ft. Myers. FreedomWorks staffers called local supporters across the country within hours of Rick Santelli's Feb. 19 rant on CNBC, asking if they were willing to organize a Tea Party. FreedomWorks hosted the first event with $20,000, four staff members and a volunteer intern.


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