Tea Partiers and FreedomWorks Craft a 2010 Agenda

By
Monday, January 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm
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Organizer Jebb Young addresses conservative activists at the FreedomWorks office (Photo by David Weigel)

Before Ryan Hecker presented the Contract from America to his Sunday night audience — 63 activists huddled inside of a meeting room in the Washington, D.C. office of FreedomWorks — the free-market think tank’s spokesman promised great things.

“You watch,” Adam Brandon told TWI. “This is the idea that’s going to change the election.”

[GOP1] In this room, Hecker, a lawyer and Tea Party activist, had an easy sell. His idea, fleshed out over four months, was to produce an election manifesto along the lines of the Contract with America launched by Republicans shortly before the 1994 elections, or the 1961 Sharon statement drafted by Young Americans for Freedom. First, Tea Party activists — and anyone else who was interested — would submit ideas at the ContractFromAmerica or Spiritof94 websites. Then they’d be whittled down to 50 ideas with an online vote. When he brought the draft contract to this meeting, it was down to 20 user-selected ideas. “I had four ideas,” Hecker chuckled. “None of them made it in here.”

The draft contract was a hit — at first. When FreedomWorks vice president of policy Max Pappas asked what people thought of the name, the dissent started to rumble.

“I just think if there’s anybody who has negative thoughts toward Gingrich or that group,” said Charlotte Fitzgerald, a Maryland activist, “this has associations with that. If you start with a clean slate, you can be more credible to independents.”

Hecker stepped up to explain himself. “My reason for ‘contract’ — maybe it’s just the attorney in me — is that I like the idea that it’s binding. With the Contract with America, a lot of it ended up not being enacted.”

Adam Brandon offered that the “Contract” name would make more sense to Washington politicians. “When I say ‘Contract from America,’ they know exactly what I’m talking about. When I say ‘American Manifesto,’ they say, What’s that?”

“‘American Manifesto’ sounds socialist,” sniffed Lynn Collins, a Delaware activist.

It was a friendly argument that didn’t go off the rails — within a few minutes, activists were voting on which in-progress Contract items they supported. That was business as usual at the Liberty Leadership Summit, an inaugural effort by FreedomWorks to bring together Tea Party activists from state to state to meet, share ideas, and craft an agenda. From Saturday through Monday, 63 activists gathered in the free-market group’s offices to strategize for the 2010 elections, participate in workshops like titles like “What You Can and Can’t Say: How to Stay Out of Jail This Year,” and break occasionally for pizza or Chinese food.

Despite the high level of the discussion — the Contract draft was marked “confidential,” and activists openly debated which incumbents they were ready to challenge in 2010 — FreedomWorks invited reporters inside to see how their movement worked. On Monday morning, the activists would sit down with reporters from The New York Times, CNN and other media outlets to explain who they were and what they were doing. After a year of liberal pundits bashing FreedomWorks as an “astroturf” group and attacking the credibility of Tea Party activists for working with it, the group’s leaders have stopped caring about MSNBC or liberal bloggers attacking them as a force behind a popular anti-government movement.

“We’re the shadowy roots!” laughed Brandon. “What I always tell people is that we’re a service center. There’s only 18 of us. Our model is that we’re going to help you and your network.”

The Liberty Leadership Summit was a perfect demonstration of how FreedomWorks amplifies and aids the work that Tea Party activists already want to do. On their way into the offices for Sunday’s meeting, activists grabbed copies of the latest Cook Political Report rankings of House and Senate races, copies of G. Edward Griffin’s seminal anti-Federal Reserve tome “The Creature from Jekyl Island,” and copies of a memo from Pappas laying out the “fiscal policy outlook” of the coming year. That memo laid out the cases against the Democratic agenda on issues ranging from energy to financial regulation, warning activists against the majority party’s proposals to answer voters’ concerns.

“Bush’s ‘Wall Street Bailout’ was the spark that lit the Tea Party grassfire,” wrote Pappas in a section on financial regulation, “and the Obama administration has so far been successful in continuing to increase the ties between Wall Street and Washington while at the same time demonizing bankers for political gain. This presents a big opportunity for the right to throw off the image of being owned by business interests when what we really support are free markets.”

Some Tea Party activists at the meeting, like Fitzgerald, blanched at the thought of their agenda matching up with the Republican agenda. There was audible grumbling when Hecker announced that Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions was on board with the Contract from America as soon as it was ready to launch — Hecker mollified that by explaining that the group was not “tied” to Gingrich. When Florida activist Robin Stublen worried that Republicans might try and beat Tea Party activists to the punch with their own Contract, Brandon told him not to worry.

“They don’t have the credibility to do that,” Brandon said.

At the same time, in the wake of Scott Brown’s upset victory in the Massachusetts special election — a victory that came after Democrats tried and failed to negatively tie Brown to Tea Parties — activists were thrilled at the prospects of taking down long-serving incumbents. Sketching out the primary and general election calender for 2010, activists speculated that the Florida seat of retiring Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) could be up for grabs, along with the Senate seats held by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and House seats held by Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) and Rep. Michael Mahon (D-N.Y.). Every Democratic committee chairman, they argued, should be looked at for a challenge. According to Virginia activist Lisa Miller, former Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) was talking to Tea Party activists about challenging Perriello, the man who beat him.

When all of this was boiled down, the activists came up with three goals. The first: “No tax & spend incumbent goes unchallenged.” The second: “Take over the Republican Party,” which meant scouting out “strategic opportunities to put fiscal conservatives in the House and Senate.” The third: “Fiscal conservatives will take back the House and Senate.”

If the short debate over the Contract from America did anything, it demonstrated that the Tea Party vision of “fiscal conservatism” is one that Republicans are primed to run on. Asked to vote whether the first batch of possible Contract items were in their “top ten” or “bottom ten,” the activists heavily favored items that promised more government transparency (putting every bill online for seven days before votes) and lower taxes (making the Bush tax cuts permanent and replacing the tax code with one “no longer than 4,543 words — the length of the original Constitution). The transparency item, in particular, sounded like a no-brainer.

“I thought we voted for Obama to do that!” said Everett Wilkinson, a Florida activist.

The less popular items were ones that smacked of federal government intervention in the economy. The group voted down a tight term limits rule, a “Committee on Constitutional Authority” that would rule on whether bills passed muster, and waivers from the EPA “in order to allow states flexibility in establishing environmental priorities.” That prompted activists to argue that they should simply support abolishing the EPA. After no one supported a “corporate welfare commission” to scour wasteful spending, Pennsylvania activist John Stahl suggested that the movement campaign against corporate welfare altogether. And Stahl worried that the Contract was missing a major action item.

“There are assaults underway by the Obama administration, and others, on our Constitutional right to vote,” said Stahl. He rattled off examples — the motor voter law, giving the vote to “anybody who’s on the dole,” amnesty to undocumented immigrants — and argued that it needed to become an issue or there would be “a lot of disappointed people out there.”

“That’s a good point,” said Hecker. “One of the ideas that’s not in this, that was on the site, is an ID for voting.”

By the end of the meeting, Tea Party activists had a handle on the issues they’d demand answers on when politicians got fully into gear. And they’d started to determine how the Tea Parties of 2010 would not merely repeat the ones that broke out in 2009. Arkansas activists, said organizer Jebb Young, would hold a rally on the one-year anniversary of the day Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) called protesters “un-American.” They’d meet and greet legislators when they showed up to the next session. After he described ways for Tea Party activists to show their political heft, New York activist Tom Borrelli argued that the movement needed to pick one major corporation and start a boycott of its products. The dozens of Tea Party activists scribbled down notes.

“I think the people that you see here are going to change the direction of the country this year,” said Brendan Steinhauser, FreedomWorks’ director of federal and state campaigns.

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Comments

32 Comments

Bob
Comment posted January 25, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

Interesting piece, really enjoying your reporting on this. Seems that co-optation is proceeding apace. Freedomworks is clearly serving up a coherent, national tea party mvmt on a platter to the GOP.


uberVU - social comments
Trackback posted January 25, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by TWI_news: Tea Partiers and FreedomWorks Craft a 2010 Agenda http://bit.ly/5PKYxl...


Irish_Wake
Comment posted January 25, 2010 @ 7:38 pm

But our knowledgeable compatriot “New Hampshire” (of the upside-down American flag icon) has assured us that this is fictional. I asked about documented involvement of both Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks, and was assured there was no involvement.

I guess this article is a typographical error.


williamspillane
Comment posted January 26, 2010 @ 1:28 am

The FairTax, HR 25 in the House of Reps. and S 296 in the Senate, is the tax replacement that all tea partiers should adopt. It has 61 Sponsors and co-sponsors in the House and 5 in the Senate; far and away more support than the much talked about “flat(income)tax”. See fairtax.org/


Tweets that mention Tea Partiers and FreedomWorks Craft a 2010 Agenda « The Washington Independent -- Topsy.com
Pingback posted January 26, 2010 @ 2:24 am

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by daveweigel, mommadona, Judith Weiss, aliceinthewater, Robin Stublen and others. Robin Stublen said: Good story on Tea Party in Washington Insider http://tinyurl.com/yh4u5y7 #tpp #tcot #tparty #right #gop [...]


my ignorance revealed: spending freeze edition « Manifest Density
Pingback posted January 26, 2010 @ 9:52 am

[...] say “ceding”, I say “co-opting”. Reading Dave’s piece from yesterday, I was left with the impression that the alliance between establishment conservatives and the tea [...]


ClayBarham
Comment posted January 26, 2010 @ 11:23 am

Howard Roark, in the Fountainhead, epitomizes what the earliest American settlers discovered that did not exist in the world at the time. It was the ability for each individual to think, imagine, create, build and change the environment with their own sweat, even disturbing the established and accepted way things were done, and without fear of punishment. That was America, and what set her apart from all other nations, as cited in Save Pebble Droppers & Prosperity at Amazon and claysamerica.com. Individual freedom caused local government, close to the governed within a days horseback ride. The governed ruled, and they could change government in Town Halls or by vigilante movements, much like the Tea Party movement today. It is the tradition rising from a Howard Roark kind of people.


Dodgeblogium » TPP takes on media…
Pingback posted January 26, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

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SarChasm
Comment posted January 26, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

This article purports to show that the TeaPartiers are coalescing around a policy strategy, and actually had me respecting them until we got a peak at some of the left behind ideas.

This stood out:

<q>“There are assaults underway by the Obama administration, and others, on our Constitutional right to vote,” said Stahl. He rattled off examples — the motor voter law, giving the vote to “anybody who’s on the dole,” amnesty to undocumented immigrants — and argued that it needed to become an issue or there would be “a lot of disappointed people out there.”

“That’s a good point,” said Hecker. “One of the ideas that’s not in this, that was on the site, is an ID for voting.”</q>

In other words, the Obama Administration is going to destroy America by making it easier to vote – something the Bush DOJ spectacularly avoided. And the only way to make sense of this, the idea that democracy is subverted the more people eligible to vote, is to parse the particular meaning of the words “Constitutional right.”

We are told earlier in the article that this group is basing it's tax code on the preference that it be “4,543 words — the length of the original Constitution).”

I don't think it's any stretch to infer that “Constitutional right” to vote for TPers means white, landowning men ala the original Constitution. I wonder when they will admit this openly.


SarChasm
Comment posted January 26, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

Yea that's great if you want to live in a 17th century village, with engineering skills at Haitian levels. Which is where we'd still be if we hadn't commissioned massive public projects like the Interstate Highway System, NASA, and the Military Complex. Individual freedom and unfettered capitalism could never have built or united this country without the federal government. Misguided at best, immoral at worst, the followers of Ms Rand have wreaked enough damage, thank you. From off-shoring our industrial workforce to over-leveraging and destroying our economy, it was disciples of Rand like Greenspan and friends that got us into this mess in the first place.


SharksBreath
Comment posted January 26, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

When all of this was boiled down, the activists came up with three goals. The first: “No tax & spend incumbent goes unchallenged.” The second: “Take over the Republican Party,” which meant scouting out “strategic opportunities to put fiscal conservatives in the House and Senate.” The third: “Fiscal conservatives will take back the House and Senate.”

Take over the Republican party hun.

They ARE the Republican party.

Fiscal Conservative. Don't they know that's a myth. It never has existed.

“This presents a big opportunity for the right to throw off the image of being owned by business interests when what we really support are free markets.”

Free markets like banks to big to fail and sending every IT and industrial job out of the country.


buy r4 dsi
Comment posted January 27, 2010 @ 1:47 am

The activists would sit down with reporters from The New York Times, CNN and other media outlets to explain who they were and what they were doing. After a year of liberal pundits bashing FreedomWorks as an “astroturf” group and attacking the credibility of Tea Party activists for working with it.


chrisjay
Comment posted January 27, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

The results of the special election yesterday in Oregon belie the conclusion that the rightwingers may lay sole claim to the populist mantle—true populism is Progressive and doesn't bow to the corporatist aristocracy—what say you, teabaggers?


Tea Partiers are adults, do we need to be “organized” by Freedom Works? « Potomac Tea Party Report
Pingback posted January 30, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

[...] by Freedom Works? I’m not going to beat around the bush here, when I saw this article about Freedom Works ‘organizing’ session with grassroots Tea Partiers last weekend it [...]


Rebecca
Comment posted February 2, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

I dont feel that resulting to terms such as teabaggers gives your statement validation. Those in the tea party groups have never used such remarks to defame anyone. They ask for complete transparancy in a government that has gone off the handle as well as accountability. I am a member of the We Surround Them Group which is affilated with the tea parties. We ask that the law makers stay with in the constitution. Which was set up to foster untlimate freedom for the individual. We also dont affliate with either party. Before anyone attacks a group they should actually attend a meeting.


Rebecca
Comment posted February 2, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

I dont feel that resulting to terms such as teabaggers gives your statement validation. Those in the tea party groups have never used such remarks to defame anyone. They ask for complete transparancy in a government that has gone off the handle as well as accountability. I am a member of the We Surround Them Group which is affilated with the tea parties. We ask that the law makers stay with in the constitution. Which was set up to foster untlimate freedom for the individual. We also dont affliate with either party. Before anyone attacks a group they should actually attend a meeting.


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Tea Partiers and FreedomWorks Craft a 2010 Agenda « The Washington … | CraftRetailing.Com
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garyranderson
Comment posted February 21, 2010 @ 3:14 am

It is appearing more and more that the Tea Party Patriots are an arm of the Freedom Works lobbying machine, with huge money, a list of principals like a who's who in DC beltway politics, and tho' claiming over 340,000 members, less than 200 were availavle to participate in the TPP poll taken to decide the policy on taxes. FairTax won with over 8,000 votes and yet was shoved into obscurity, by the “shill for the GOP”. The Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, et,al power brokers, have ALWAYS wanted the Income Tax to remain intact as their prime tool to control people, and maintain power. There truly IS NO grassroots element to Freedom Works, and they have co-opted Tea Party Patriots to “MAKE” a shake n' bake appearance of grassroots support. It is a small thing for them to buy off some volunteers as they were Indians with cheap beads and trinkets, for a treasure trove of benefit. Many if not MOST of the TPP directors are staunch FairTax supporters, as are many of the membership. A great idea by Mr. Hecker is being foisted as legitimate polling. In short, the game is rigged. This assault on the citizenry will not go unnoticed nor forgotten. But isn't that the sad history of the Republican Party, to shoot themselves in the foot and seed the future to the Progressives, as if it were planned that way. The Contract, if it EVER be FROM America, needs to have a keynote item placed in it, one of ten, that of the FairTax. In order to KEEP the grassroots from walking away, It should read like this:

“Adopt the FairTax, HR25, a single-rate consumption tax, necessity adjusted, to REPLACE the Income tax and all other federal taxes, ending the IRS, and returning to the Founder’s method of raising revenue.”

It simply WILL NOT DO, to hi-jack the tea party begun a year ago, and cover it with apologies and excuses such as we've so far gotten. WE THE PEOPLE demand that you have this offending statement changed.


garyranderson
Comment posted February 21, 2010 @ 8:14 am

It is appearing more and more that the Tea Party Patriots are an arm of the Freedom Works lobbying machine, with huge money, a list of principals like a who's who in DC beltway politics, and tho' claiming over 340,000 members, less than 200 were availavle to participate in the TPP poll taken to decide the policy on taxes. FairTax won with over 8,000 votes and yet was shoved into obscurity, by the “shill for the GOP”. The Dick Armey, Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, et,al power brokers, have ALWAYS wanted the Income Tax to remain intact as their prime tool to control people, and maintain power. There truly IS NO grassroots element to Freedom Works, and they have co-opted Tea Party Patriots to “MAKE” a shake n' bake appearance of grassroots support. It is a small thing for them to buy off some volunteers as they were Indians with cheap beads and trinkets, for a treasure trove of benefit. Many if not MOST of the TPP directors are staunch FairTax supporters, as are many of the membership. A great idea by Mr. Hecker is being foisted as legitimate polling. In short, the game is rigged. This assault on the citizenry will not go unnoticed nor forgotten. But isn't that the sad history of the Republican Party, to shoot themselves in the foot and seed the future to the Progressives, as if it were planned that way. The Contract, if it EVER be FROM America, needs to have a keynote item placed in it, one of ten, that of the FairTax. In order to KEEP the grassroots from walking away, It should read like this:

“Adopt the FairTax, HR25, a single-rate consumption tax, necessity adjusted, to REPLACE the Income tax and all other federal taxes, ending the IRS, and returning to the Founder’s method of raising revenue.”

It simply WILL NOT DO, to hi-jack the tea party begun a year ago, and cover it with apologies and excuses such as we've so far gotten. WE THE PEOPLE demand that you have this offending statement changed.


North Capitol Street » Blog Archive » Republicans Working on New, Jobs-Focused ‘Contract With America’
Pingback posted July 7, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

[...] In May, House Republicans created a new website, America Speaking Out, that allows regular folks to submit ideas for policy solutions on jobs, the debt, national security and other crucial topics. The GOP hopes to create a new party platform — specifically, an update of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract with America” — using ideas from America Speaking Out, to be released in time for the midterm elections. (Tea Partiers have a similar project.) [...]


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Comment posted July 27, 2010 @ 10:59 am

“Adopt the FairTax, HR25, a single-rate consumption tax, necessity adjusted, to REPLACE the Income tax and all other federal taxes, ending the IRS, and returning to the Founder’s method of raising revenue.”


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Comment posted August 8, 2010 @ 3:47 pm

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Discount Louis Vuitton
Comment posted August 20, 2010 @ 2:48 am

It simply WILL NOT DO, to hi-jack the tea party begun a year ago, and cover it with apologies and excuses such as we've so far gotten. WE THE PEOPLE demand that you have this offending statement changed.


Gucci hysteria
Comment posted August 21, 2010 @ 6:31 am

It's America.


watch weeds
Comment posted September 22, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

Yea that's great if you want to live in a 17th century village, with engineering skills at Haitian levels. Which is where we'd still be if we hadn't commissioned massive public projects like the Interstate Highway System, NASA, and the Military Complex. Individual freedom and unfettered capitalism could never have built or united this country without the federal government. Misguided at best, immoral at worst, the followers of Ms Rand have wreaked enough damage, thank you. From off-shoring our industrial workforce to over-leveraging and destroying our economy, it was disciples of Rand like Greenspan and friends that got us into this mess in the first place.


What Comes Next | Just Above Sunset
Pingback posted November 5, 2010 @ 4:17 am

[...] and promoted by every conservative group that wanted to prove its bona fides. You could, except for this – the thing was created by sixty-three activists huddled inside of a meeting room in the [...]


Analysis: Tea Party lawmakers must be willing to be unpopular (Exclusive to Yahoo! News) | ReactionRadio.net
Pingback posted November 5, 2010 @ 6:55 pm

[...] a Tea Party activist based in Texas, was the main drafter of the “Contract From America.” It was a user-driven, 10-point pledge for candidates [...]


Analysis: Tea Party lawmakers must be willing to be unpopular (Exclusive to Yahoo! News) | RifaMedia NewsPaper
Pingback posted November 5, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

[...] a Tea Party activist based in Texas, was the main drafter of the “Contract From America.” It was a user-driven, 10-point pledge for candidates [...]


Analysis: Tea Party lawmakers must be willing to be unpopular (Exclusive to Yahoo! News) | www.BestArticleWiz.co.cc
Pingback posted November 5, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

[...] main drafter of the “Contract From&#32&#65&#109erica.” It was a user-driven, 10-point pledge for [...]


Analysis: Tea Party lawmakers must be willing to be unpopular (Exclusive to Yahoo! News) | casualdiscord.com
Pingback posted November 5, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

[...] a Tea Party activist based in Texas, was the main drafter of the “Contract From America.” It was a user-driven, 10-point pledge for candidates [...]


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