Dick Armey’s Long History of Working With Industry-Backed Groups


The second in a three-part series about Dick Armey and his relationship to the tobacco industry throughout his career. See part one here.

There is no doubt that Dick Armey considered the tobacco industry a friend, as discussed in part one of this series. There is also no doubt that cigarette makers worked to stay on Armey's good side, and in ways beyond just giving him money.  

In 1993, Armey's son, David Armey, got a job with the Ramhurst Corporation, a company created through R.J. Reynolds' effort to set up astroturf  "smokers rights" groups throughout the country in the mid-1980s. RJR created these groups to give the appearance that smokers across the U.S. were coordinating a grassroots uprising against state and local smoking bans, which at the time were being  introduced more frequently across the country. Ramhurst hired David Armey as a contract lobbyist to help the tobacco industry fight clean indoor air laws in the states. 

Armey involved himself with a number of industry-backed groups that also benefitted him in return. He lent his support to a group called Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), purportedly a "taxpayer watchdog group" that in reality was funded by Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco, the Exxon Corporation, and several right wing foundations. Armey publicly endorsed CAGW's activities, and tapped CAGW to help promote the Republicans' 1995 legislative centerpiece, the so-called "Contract with America." 

A promotional brochure for CAGW quoted Armey praising the group, saying "CAGW has worked tirelessly to educate taxpayers and policy makers alike about the many recommendations in the Contract. The experience and clout CAGW has earned … make it a natural choice for our coalition to revolutionize government."  


Armey also served on the board of the Alexis de Toqueville Institute (AdTI), another industry-funded, right-wing think tank that advocated lower taxes and less regulation. Like CAGW, AdTI received financial support from Big Tobacco. A Tobacco Institute budget shows a $20,000 donation to AdTI, and a 1998 Tobacco Institute Public Affairs budget shows $10,000 in support going to AdTI.  AdTI produced "studies" whose results were pre-determined to undermine President Clinton's proposal for a national health care plan, and Armey mailed these studies to all members of the House along with a "Dear Colleague" letter.   


Armey had a close relationship with still another group, the powerful energy and tobacco industry-backed astroturf group Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which, just like AdTI and CAGW, pushed for lower taxes and less government regulation on corporations. And just like those other two organizations, CSE also formed a reciprocally beneficial relationship with Armey.

Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch founded CSE in 1984 as a means to help fight taxes and government regulations on their businesses — two goals that meshed well with Armey's free-market philosophy. CSE and Armey worked together symbiotically to promote each others' political positions and boost each other's political influence on issues.

CSE aggressively helped Armey promote his pet idea of replacing the income tax with a flat tax, and provided Armey with plenty of high-profile public speaking opportunities where he could promote his flat-tax idea.

After Armey became House Majority Leader in 1995, CSE organized a rally in Dallas, Texas where Armey spoke about the flat-tax. That same year, Armey issued a big fundraising appeal on behalf of CSE in which CSE mass-mailed out a push-poll framed as a "public opinion survey" that was designed to stimulate grassroots support for Armey's flat-tax idea.In the appeal, Armey asked recipients to send the completed surveys back to his office so he could "help convince my colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass this important flat-tax bill."

Armey praised CSE in his 1996 book, "The Flat Tax: a citizen's guide to the facts on what it will do for you, your country and your pocketbook."Armey wrote, "…they [CSE] have performed outstanding service to the flat tax and the cause of limited government." CSE also arranged for Armey to speak to a crowd of CSE Foundation members at a Planet Hollywood in San Diego, California during the 1996 Republican National Convention. 


As Armey gained influence through his association with CSE, CSE gained influence through its alliance with Armey. A July 13, 1996 article in the National Journal said, "CSE's clout has been enhanced by its close ties to such leading Republicans as House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey of Texas, House Republican Conference chairman John Boehner of Ohio…" 


In January, 2003, Dick Armey retired after 18 years in the House and took a job as a co-chairman of CSE. In a press release about his hiring, CSE pledged to work to advance a joint "CSE-Armey Agenda for 2003 and Beyond." Just a year and a half later, in July of 2004, CSE merged with Empower America, another right-wing think tank, to form the industry-funded group FreedomWorks, whose name was derived from one of Armey's favorite sayings, "Freedom works. Freedom is good policy and good politics." The origin of the name shows the closeness of the ties between FreedomWorks and Dick Armey. 


But FreedomWorks' days as a Dick Armey political vehicle were numbered. 

Stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow. 

Tags: Dick ArmeyTobacco industryfront groupscorporate front groupspolitics

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