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 direction.
A confidential contract obtained by The Associated Press shows that Mr. 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 the former Texas lawmaker would resign his position at both FreedomWorks and its sister organization, the FreedomWorks Foundation, by the end of November.
According to the contract, Mr. 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. Mr. Stephenson is on the board of directors of FreedomWorks.
The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call said Tuesday that the turnover at FreedomWorks was not limited to Mr. Armey: Also leaving are Vice President for Public Policy Max Pappas, Director of Campaigns Brendan Steinhauser and at least two other staffers.
Mr. 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.
Mr. Armey confirmed his departure Tuesday, saying that "my differences with FreedomWorks are a matter of principle." Mr. Armey said he made the decision to quit FreedomWorks in August, but Mr. Stephenson and other board members urged him not to leave until after the Nov. 6 general election. Mr. Stephenson did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
Mr. 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 rivals.
In an internal Nov. 30 resignation memo published by Mother Jones, Mr. Armey told FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe to remove his "name, image and signature" from all the group's materials and Web operations. Mr. Kibbe and other FreedomWorks officials were not immediately available for comment.
Mr. 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 Mr. Armey, 72, was FreedomWorks' co-chairman and intellectual authority and at first, its public face, the younger Mr. 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 record in 2012 is far less impressive. 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 lawmakers 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 12th, Rep. Jeffrey M. Landry, Louisiana Republican, faces a difficult runoff election this month against another GOP incumbent.