Former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) has ousted from the Heritage Foundation after their board unanimously voted to ask for his resignation. DeMint resigned from the Senate in 2013 to take the reins of the conservative think tank as its President and CEO. Ed Feulner, the founder of the Heritage Foundation and DeMint’s predecessor, will lead as interim CEO.
Thomas Saunders III, chairman of Heritage’s board of trustees, released a statement after the meeting sent to the Heritage Foundation staff. Included below is an excerpt:
After a comprehensive and independent review of the entire Heritage organization, the Board determined there were significant and worsening management issues that led to a breakdown of internal communications and cooperation. While the organization has seen many successes, Jim DeMint and a handful of his closest advisers failed to resolve these problems.
This was a difficult and necessary decision for the Board to take. As trustees, we have governance and oversight responsibilities for this organization and our 500,000 members. We were compelled to take action.
Heritage has never been about one individual, but rather the power of conservative ideas. Heritage is bigger than any one person.
As Chairman of the Board, I wholeheartedly endorse this change. It will make Heritage stronger in the short term and the long run.
The narrative Politico offers, supported by quotes from a single anonymous board member, is that Heritage is in disarray as a result of DeMint’s decisions since taking over several years ago. DeMint destroyed the organization’s brand as an esteemed think tank, prioritized politics over research, and mismanaged the institution’s assets after taking control. As a result, according to this narrative, Heritage Foundation’s executive committee had no choice but to remove DeMint pending a full meeting of the board, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday morning. DeMint’s five-year contract with Heritage runs out at the end of the year.
That’s the public narrative. The narrative offered independently by multiple sources with intimate knowledge of the ongoing turmoil, several of whom are not particularly sympathetic to DeMint, is quite different. According to these sources, the actual story is the exact opposite of what has thus far been peddled in the media, and it all starts with Ed Feulner’s creation of Heritage Action in 2010 and his decision to let Mike Needham, a brash former Rudy Giuliani operative, control the new operation. Contrary to the media narrative floated last week that DeMint needlessly politicized Heritage and turned it into a brass-knuckle political combat group instead of a policy-focused think tank, these sources say Needham bears much of the blame for politicizing Heritage.
Rather than pushing to make Heritage more political and less focused on producing high-quality policy research, DeMint actually tried to rein in Heritage Action in recent years, as the 501(c)(4) group began racking up enemy after enemy on Capitol Hill without actually putting any congressional policy points on the board. Multiple sources told The Federalist that Needham bristled at DeMint’s repeated attempts to assert control over the splinter organization and began plotting to overthrow DeMint once it became clear that the former South Carolina senator had no desire to outsource control of the think tank to the 30-something political operative with no policy background.
I have not been privy to the inside baseball going on within Heritage’s walls, and I will not say DeMint was without fault. I do believe, however, that DeMint has poised the organization to have greater influence in Washington, and raised the organization’s profile. Saunders is right that an organization like Heritage is bigger than just one man, but DeMint’s ouster is likely to sting regarding support.
Time will tell whether this was a good long-term decision or not.