Heritage, key Trump White House ally, overthrows leader

Jim DeMint
FILE - In this Feb. 23, 2017, file photo, Heritage Foundation President, former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Md. The Heritage Foundation has ousted DeMint after a power struggle. The Washington nonprofit's board of trustees unanimously asked for and received the resignation of DeMint at a meeting Tuesday, May 2. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has ousted its leader after a power struggle.

The Washington nonprofit’s board of trustees unanimously asked for and received the resignation of Jim DeMint at a meeting Tuesday. The board chairman said in a pull-no-punches statement afterward that “significant and worsening management issues” led to the ouster.

“Heritage has never been about one individual, but rather the power of conservative ideas,” chairman Thomas Saunders III wrote in a statement. “Heritage is bigger than any one person.”

DeMint, a former South Carolina senator, said in a statement that he found the stated reason for his dismissal “puzzling,” though he did not offer up another motive. At least six other Heritage staffers departed along with DeMint.

Dozens of Republicans in Congress wrote a love-letter of sorts to DeMint on Monday. They praised him for serving as an inspirational conservative figure “even when confronted by overwhelming opposition, bitter criticism and nagging skepticism.”

Rep. Dave Brat, a Virginia Republican, called DeMint’s ouster “a tragedy.”

“He’s just kind of an ideal person who understood the think-tank world and understands the timing and the strategy along with policy,” Brat said. “And to lose that, it’s incomprehensible. I don’t get it. At all. I don’t get it.”

Some board members called the decision a painful, but necessary, one.

Kay Cole James said it was “purely about management, organizational and structural issues” — not philosophical differences with DeMint.

James said Saunders expressed admiration for DeMint during an all-staff meeting late Tuesday to announce the leadership change. She added that DeMint had already left the building by then.

In his statement, DeMint cited outside reviews of Heritage’s improving status as a think tank while he was at the helm. The University of Pennsylvania, for example, called Heritage the 13th best-managed think tank in the world last year.

DeMint also pointed to the performance bonuses that he and his top aides have steadily received since he joined Heritage in 2013. He was earning more than $1 million a year.

Heritage, which has 500,000 members, brought in about $92 million in revenue in 2015, according to its most recent publicly available tax filings.

The nonprofit has been a crucial ally of President Donald Trump and his still-young administration. The president thanked Heritage — and specifically DeMint — during his speech Friday to the National Rifle Association.

Yet the organization struggles with the same complex internal dynamics facing Republicans writ large: Heritage Action, its advocacy arm, was urging lawmakers to reject Congress’s omnibus spending bill even as the Trump administration was aggressively making the case for it on Tuesday.

The bill, Heritage argued, “woefully fails the test of fiscal responsibility and does not advance important conservative policies.”

Founder Ed Feulner will serve as president and chief executive officer during a search for DeMint’s replacement.