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American Phoenix Foundation

The Stockman trial gets weird

I mean, with Steve Stockman you have to expect some weird crap, but I didn’t see this coming.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The American Phoenix Foundation — a now-defunct conservative activist groupknown for attempting undercover stings of lawmakers and lobbyists — planted an intern in a Texas state lawmaker’s office during the 2013 legislative session in an effort to expose misdeeds, testimony in federal court revealed Thursday.

Shaughn Adeleye, testifying in Houston in the federal fraud case against former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, said in court Thursday that he was planted in the office of state Rep. James White to obtain footage of the Hillister Republican engaged in “fraud and abuse” and also in more mundane activities like cursing or failing to tidy his messy car, according to Quorum Report.

Stockman funded that effort in an attempt to uncover “salacious” gossip about a perceived political rival, according to testimony Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported. The former congressman stands accused of illegally using charitable donations to cover political and personal expenses, among a total of 28 criminal charges.

Stockman was concerned that White would give up his state House seat to challenge him for Congress. “Republicans love black conservatives. I’m worried,” Stockman fretted in a text to a political ally, according to testimony Thursday.

Adeleye told prosecutors Thursday that he accepted the undercover job because he was told he’d be ferreting out corruption, but it ultimately became clear his supervisors were hoping for embarrassing material about White, who is the only black Republican in the Legislature. He was told “a good video of [White] saying anything crazy would be ideal,” according to an email shown in court.

“These were just such odd requests,” Adeleye said Thursday.

The American Phoenix Foundation filmed Texas lobbyists and lawmakers back in 2015, and the group’s membership has ties to James O’Keefe, a conservative political activist infamous for his shady tactics.

See here for yesterday’s update. I recall State Rep. White’s name being bounced around as a possible CD36 candidate for a hot second or two, but it never gained any traction, in part because he wasn’t interested and in part because Stockman went off on his quest to unseat Sen. John Cornyn in that primary. Given that Stockman basically cruised to a win in the crowded 2012 race for CD36 on the strength of his residual name ID and that James White was a two-term State Rep who I’d venture to guess was widely unknown, this hair-brained scheme to discredit him – which among other things would surely have done wonders for Rep. White’s name ID – shows an impressive level of paranoia, even for the likes of Stockman. The scheme itself makes Jerry Lundegaard and Carl Showalter look like super geniuses, and I am here for it. This trial has more than lived up to my expectations, and the defense hasn’t even begun to present its case. The Chron – check the URL for that story, it’s pure gold – has more.

Lawsuit filed against APF

Sweet.

An Austin-based lobbyist has sued the group behind the secret videotaping of Capitol insiders in an attempt to compel it to reveal its major donors and other detailed financial information.

Steve Bresnen issued a statement saying he is suing the American Phoenix Foundation and its co-founder Joseph Basel alleging the group broke laws that require nonprofits to make financial documents available for public inspection.

“A nonprofit corporation is not a plaything for kids and political hacks,” Bresnen said. “The fact that Joe’s real business is as a political consultant violates every principle of journalistic ethics (he tells contributors that APF trains ‘journalists’) and raises the potential for conflicts of interest with the nonprofit’s authorized purpose.”

The group claims to have amassed more than 800 hours of footage of lobbyists and lawmakers secretly videotaped at popular Austin hangouts, such as the W Hotel. Describing itself as an initiative to train citizen journalists, the foundation said it would reveal its findings this summer, which it said included corruption and sexual misconduct.

[…]

In his suit, Bresnen said he approached Basel and Wetmore at the Capitol and handed them a request to view the documents. Wetmore responded on June 5, saying the request was “delinquent and in error” and asking for copying fees.

He added that most of the requested documents – including federal Form 990 tax filings – were available online. In a statement to the Chronicle on Monday, Basel added, “he’s just going for a fishing expedition and abusing the legal process to harass our team. It reflects his profession: abusing the law and using privileged access to protect special interests.”

Bresnen has asked the court to compel Phoenix to provide access to the nonprofit’s books and records, including “the dates and amounts of APF’s contributions over $5,000 for the last three years.”

See here and here for some background. I don’t have anything to add here, I’m just going to enjoy the heck out of this. Please, oh please, let this at least get to the taking depositions stage.

Further lessons in throwing money at dishonest people

It’s so sad seeing such savvy businessmen being so badly fleeced, isn’t it?

A second major donor to the conservative group that secretly recorded elected officials and lobbyists says he stopped providing financial support after growing dissatisfied with how his money was being used.

Anthony Holm, a staple in Texas conservative circles and a consultant who has worked on behalf of top statewide Republicans, including former Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Ken Paxton, tapped a Virginia-based nonprofit that he runs to give a $150,000 grant to the American Phoenix Foundation in 2011, tax filings show.

[…]

According to IRS filings, Holm used his First Amendment Alliance Educational Fund, a tax exempt group whose website says it is “committed to exposing corruption and inconsistencies in government action and the public sector,” to make the six-figure grant to the American Phoenix Foundation.

In a statement Friday, Holm said funded the American Phoenix Foundation while its efforts were focused outside of Texas, noting that he knew nothing of the group’s recent plans to covertly record the state’s political elite. All funding and contact with the American Phoenix Foundation, he said, quickly came to a halt following his donation four years ago.

“Shortly after funding APF, I became uncomfortable with their operations and ceased supporting them,” Holm said. “I have not been in communication with the organization in three or four years.”

See here for the background. Holm was the mouthpiece for Ken Paxton who kept assuring us all that those charges filed against him were nothing but a liberal plot, so you’d think he’d be familiar with the kind of dishonesty that powers groups like APF, but apparently not. The lesson here to me is that some people just have more money than they can reasonably use or keep track of. Higher marginal tax rates would help spare them this kind of embarrassment in the future. I’m sure they’ll understand.

A brief lesson in the value of disclosure and transparency

I confess, I have not been following the “wingnut activists videoing everyone at the Capitol” clown show very closely, but the absurdity of it all has been kicked up to the point where I couldn’t ignore it any more.

The activist group employing people who have been secretly recording lawmakers have talked about having a bipartisan mission to root out misdeeds of lawmakers no matter the political stripe.

But four large donors to the American Phoenix Foundation — the Strake Foundation, the State Policy Network, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, and Jeff Sandefer’s Ed Foundation — are well-known backers of conservative causes.

The Strake Foundation, founded by George Strake, a former Texas Republican Party chairman from Houston, has given $30,000 to American Phoenix since the group’s founding in 2010, according to IRS filings with Guidestar.org. Sandefer, a former adviser to Rick Perry, has given a total of $200,000 through his foundation. The Arlington, Va.-based State Policy Network and the Franklin Center each gave $25,000 in 2012 to American Phoenix.

In the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2012, American Phoenix reported donations and grants totaling $182,225. IRS rules do not require the Austin-based nonprofit to reveal individual donors.

[…]

Eric Bearse, a Republican political consultant and speechwriter who has worked in the past for House Speaker Joe Straus, called American Phoenix’s claims of training journalists and trying to ferret out information about politicians of all stripes “a total smoke screen.”

“I have thought from the beginning that this is an attempt to go after Speaker Straus and Republicans in the House who have supported his leadership,” Bearse said Thursday. “They are focused on one goal, which is to undermine the speaker.”

“The speaker’s hold on the office has increased over the years, and his opponents have grown more desperate because of that,” Bearse added. “This is the most desperate attempt yet.”

Who could have guessed that a bunch of secretive operatives with close ties to the world’s least honest videographer could have been less than fully forthcoming about their motives? And now, as RG Ratcliffe notes, one of their sugar daddies is proclaiming to be unhappy with how his money has been spent.

Reached for comment Thursday, Sandefer said he was not aware of the group’s plan to secretly film lawmakers and was unhappy with his investment after he received no feedback on how the group was using his money.

“I was unaware that they were planning to film politicians. Our intent was that they were going to train journalists,” Sandefer said. “We were unhappy with a lack of progress in training journalists and asked for the money back. And we did not receive any money back.”

Just breaks your heart, doesn’t it? As Juanita notes, one should not feel too sorry for Mr. Sandefer. One should instead chuckle heartily, while noting that if we had stronger disclosure and transparency laws for campaigns and PACs and what have you – all of which these very donors are fanatically committed to opposing, mind you – they might have had a clearer idea about where their dollars were going. Can’t trust anyone these days, I tell you. PDiddie has more.