Apparently Tea Party advocacy group FreedomWorks, LOVES their fake panda (is someone over there a fan of the Plushie movement?). They love the wordplay on the idea of “pandering,” (pandering…panda…get it?) which is what they accuse their opponents of. So whenever they can, they get their panda out there to appear in street rallies (pictured above), videos (fast forward to the 2:03 mark), and in public protest theater. Have I already mentioned how much they LOVE their panda?
So it was only a matter of time before they’d pull that fuzzy, rising star off the street corners and give it a higher profile in furthering the Tea Party agenda. A starring role, so to speak. Well, maybe not a starring role, but at least a meaningful part in what would surely get some attention…and it did. Oh, it did.
That panda performance was documented in a promotional video made last year to help energize their base. One that’s gone underground but is just seeing the light of day by way of an ongoing internal investigation into the group’s president, Matt Kibbe. It seems, amongst other issues, Kibbe’s been a little loose with his spending practices, along with a few other questionable items (detailed in a moment). But perhaps most salacious of the items in question is that promotional video. And why would that be? Because the oh-so-clever filmmakers include in it a short scene in which the ubiquitous FreedomWorks Panda is found on its knees between the legs of an actress in a Hillary Clinton mask, pretending (one assumes) to be engaged in oral sex.
How creative! How political! How auteur! How…utterly tasteless.
Particularly given that the target demographic for FreedomWorks is hard-core, conservative, right-wing Christians. And they LOVE that kind of stuff, right?? Not so much. Even Tea Partiers draw the line somewhere.
So between shady financial dealings, self-serving use of funds, and this skeezy video, alarm bells went off and an investigation was set in motion. The main focus of which, as reported by Mother Jones, is “three-pronged”:
In December, after months of bitter in-fighting, two members of FreedomWorks’ board of trustees—C. Boyden Gray, the White House counsel for President George H.W. Bush, and James Burnley IV, a secretary of transportation during the Reagan years—notified Kibbe that they had received “allegations of wrongdoing by the organization or its employees” and had hired two lawyers, Alfred Regnery and David Martin, to investigate. [… ]
One former FreedomWorks official says three “investigative themes” emerged when he was interviewed by Regnery and Martin. The two attorneys indicated they were examining the book deal that awarded Kibbe the profits from a book whose production, several former FreedomWorks officials say, involved extensive use of the organization’s resources. [… ]
The investigative team has also discussed with former staffers Kibbe’s use of his expense account. “The question is whether Matt Kibbe used FreedomWorks resources and donor funds to live the high life,” one past staffer says. And Regnery and Martin have questioned FreedomWorks sources about management and personnel matters. A former FreedomWorks official says Kibbe and Brandon ran the group as a “cult of personality” geared toward promoting Kibbe, and that Kibbe at times issued crude guidelines for hiring women based on their appearance. The investigators, according to a witness interviewed by them, have “asked about a hostile work environment that also included Adam [Brandon] pitting people against each other.”
Which leads us back to the video.
The video entered into the investigation as part of the “sexual harassment” and “crude guidelines” piece. It’s history was that it was “green-lit” by President Matt Kibbe and put in the able hands of Kibbe loyalist and executive vice-president, Adam Brandon. It was to be a promotional piece that was a key part of the entertainment presented at the FreedomWorks conference held in Dallas in July 2012, where thousands of “conservative grassroots activists” (including Rand Paul) would be in attendance. It would be exhibited up on the large video screen in the arena, designed to rally the troops and incite “team spirit.” Just picture it:
In one segment of the film, according to a former official who saw it, Brandon is seen waking from a nap at his desk. In what appears to be a dream or a nightmare, he wanders down a hallway and spots a giant panda on its knees with its head in the lap of a seated Hillary Clinton and apparently performing oral sex on the then-secretary of state. Two female interns at FreedomWorks were recruited to play the panda and Clinton. One intern wore a Hillary Clinton mask. The other wore a giant panda suit that FreedomWorks had used at protests to denounce progressives as panderers… Placing the panda in the video, a former FreedomWorks staffer says, was “an inside joke.” [Source; emphasis added]
However, and fortuitously, the video was pre-screened for the staff at some point before the big event. And that’s when the entertainment roster unraveled. Many at the screening were horrified, incredulous at Kibbe and Brandon’s utter lack of judgment in thinking this was an appropriate way to promote their “brand.” Others were concerned by the clear implication of sexual harassment, given the fact that the actors playing the “roles” were female interns, and that thousands of unwitting women (and men) would forced to watch it. Adam Brandon, however, remained unrepentant, insisting it was “creative and funny.” Which tells you all you need to know about Adam Brandon.
The video was, wisely, pulled from the schedule.
But the fact that is was made and initially approved for consumption is indicative of a deeper, systemic corruption in the organization. Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader, and chairman of the group until his resignation in November of 2012, gave his reasons for leaving as “concerns about the management of the organization”:
The investigating lawyers, Armey says, “picked my brain. I told them a forensic audit would be imperative because so much is hidden there.” [… ]
“I heard complaints of insensitive, boorish behavior and of obnoxious references to the condition of pregnancy,” Armey says. “Such comments put you in jeopardy of lawsuits.” A former FreedomWorks official says, “There was a pattern of misbehavior and inappropriateness that rubbed people the wrong way.” [… ]
Armey says he didn’t became aware of the film until months later: “I heard they had made an obscene video mocking Hillary Clinton.” He says he was told the video showed Clinton having sex with an intern. “I asked another [FreedomWorks] guy if he had seen it,” Armey recalls. “He said, ‘I heard about it. I was traveling at the time. It was shown around the office.'” Armey adds, “There was a concern that this kind of behavior could land you in court. I was shocked at the ugly and bad taste.” [Source]
When one thinks about the brouhaha the right made about issues related to ACORN, or any issues related to any liberal organizations working with the left, it is stunning to, once again, see the pendulum swing to shine a light on their own hypocrisy and, verifiable, nefarious doings.
None of the main players responded to requests from Mother Jones for comments (not surprising). Beyond the legal hot water they’re now swimming in, one hopes they realize how utterly insipid and tasteless they’ve been and how poorly they reflect on the image and agenda of their conservative movement (though probably not). It can also not be a coincidence that they chose to denigrate the image of Hillary Clinton, a star Democrat who is not only “the most popular politician” in the country and within her party, but has even topped the polling of right-wing news resource, Fox News, in their latest poll. I guess it makes some kind of perverse sense that they’d try to insult and degrade her particular image.
Problem is, all they ended up doing was degrading their own.
[See video – at the 2:03 mark – of FreedomWorks Panda workin' it street side... NOT the Hillary video, which has, thankfully, never surfaced.]