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Armey's Army Marches Against Obama
Armey, whose most recent lobbying clients included auto dealer CarMax and the Interactive Gaming Council, had courted controversy before K Street. ThinkProgress, a popular liberal blog, published a post in April titled, "FreedomWorks Orchestrates 'Grassroots' Movements to Serve Dick Armey's Corporate Clients."
The health-care debate brought the issue to a head at DLA Piper, where Armey had helped its clients lobby for earmarks. Some suggested that Armey's work against Obama's health-care efforts meant that DLA Piper and its drug clients were working against it as well. The pharmaceutical industry is publicly supporting Obama's efforts.
"Despite some unfounded media suggestions attempting to link DLA Piper to FreedomWorks' opposition to health care reform, the firm has not, on its own behalf, or on the behalf of any client, directly or indirectly opposed any of the pending health care reform bills," DLA Piper Chairman Frank Burch said in a statement when Armey left.
Armey echoed the point, but his activism made his position untenable, and he said he feared the firm's clients would be subject to "harassment" as long as he was associated with it.
"I hated to walk away," Armey said, calling his joint employment "a curious model, probably not having been tried by anyone before, and we made it work for 6 1/2 years."
Though Armey earned $550,000 from FreedomWorks last year, according to IRS filings, he said he misses the DLA Piper income and will likely seek a similar job soon.
"I've found nobody yet that will pay me to stay home," he joked. "The Democrats have tried, but they don't offer much."
Armey had a prominent speaking role at the Sept. 12 rally, but he said he much prefers "being in a smaller setting" talking about policy. He and his aides don't want too much credit for organizing the event, either. "The press and the Obama guys -- they keep looking for the guy who pushes the button behind the curtain," said Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. "This really is a bottom-up operation. Everybody at the national level has been very careful. Because we support local activism, we shouldn't pretend we created it."
What has also gone unclaimed is the intense animosity against Obama at town halls and the Washington rally, including several signs likening his administration to the Nazi regime.
Few congressional Republicans attended the rally, and some have questioned the tone of the protests.
"I'm not as comfortable with all the things that I've seen," said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), an Armey ideological ally.
Opponents have rendered harsher assessments. "No matter how these people came to these events, they were whipped into a froth by groups like FreedomWorks peddling outright lies about reform," Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.