Last summer, Rep. Joe Walsh, Tea Party-Ill., looked like a dead duck in his race against Tammy Duckworth. Walsh was running in a district designed specifically to elect Duckworth, and he had hurt his own chances by suggesting Duckworth was not a “true hero” because she boasted about her military record. There was even talk that the National Republican Campaign Committee would abandon Walsh.
But there was one group that continued pumping money into Walsh’s campaign: FreedomWorks, a Tea Party-affiliated group devoted to libertarian causes. FreedomWorks spent $1.5 million on television advertising for Walsh in late October. The Sunlight Foundation called it “an unusual move because FreedomWorks generally steers clear of television advertising” and called Walsh’s race “one of FreedomWorks’ biggest priorities.”
Today’s Washington Posthas the explanation for both those statements. One of Freedom Works’ board members and largest donors, Richard J. Stephenson, is one of Walsh’s constituents.
Stephenson, a longtime but little-known player in conservative causes, is a resident of Barrington, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago known for its affluence and sprawling horse estates such as his Tudor Oaks Farm. He founded the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in 1988 following his mother’s death from bladder cancer, according to the for-profit company’s Web site and his public remarks. Stephenson also holds investments in a broad portfolio of other businesses, including finance and real estate companies.
Stephenson pledged between $10 million and $12 to Freedom Works this summer. At an August retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., he made he clear that he wanted a large chunk of that spent on his own congressman.
Among other things, Stephenson wanted a substantial sum spent in support of Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a tea party favorite and Stephenson’s local congressman, several who attended the retreat recalled. Walsh garnered national headlines during the campaign when he questioned whether his opponent, Tammy Duckworth, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq, was a “true hero.” Despite internal misgivings about the value of the investment, FreedomWorks spent $1.7 million on ads supporting Walsh; he lost the race.