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James O’Keefe

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.

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.

James O’Keefe is a lying liar

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the special prosecutors that investigated the allegations by O’Keefe’s group Project Veritas made against Battleground Texas.

A conservative activist’s allegations that Democratic group Battleground Texas illegally acquired voter information in San Antonio have been rejected by a Bexar County district court after a pair of special prosecutors called it “political disinformation.”

The ruling was based on an investigative report from those special prosecutors who found no wrongdoing and described hidden-camera evidence produced by conservative activist James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas group as deliberate falsehoods.

Three people had alleged that a Battleground Texas staffer violated state election law last year by mining voters’ personal data while registering them.

The Democratic group steadfastly denied the claim, saying its activities followed the law. The group called the allegation another fiction from O’Keefe, who has been criticized for his video editing and investigative tactics.

His Project Veritas uses hidden cameras to film Democratic Party and liberal politicians and activists.

After reviewing the YouTube video from Project Veritas, the appointed prosecutors said there was “no applicable criminal offense for the alleged act and insufficient evidence to suggest potential offenses.”

Project Veritas had no immediate comment Monday.

The attorneys, Christine Del Prado and John M. Economidy, summed up their findings with a harsh assessment of the allegations.

“The Veritas video was little more than a canard and political disinformation,” their 18-page report stated. “The video was particularly unprofessional when it suggested that the actions of Battleground Texas were advocated by a Texas gubernatorial candidate and that the actions of a single volunteer deputy registrar may even involve private health data, which is not involved in the voter registration process.”

See here and here for the background. I said at the time that these allegations were the tortured reading of the law in question being made by a known liar. No one should be surprised by the end result. BOR, who has a copy of the court’s order to dismiss here, Media Matters has a coy of the special prosecutors’ report, and PDiddie have more.

BGT fires back

Good for them.

Allegations that Battleground Texas broke the law during its voter registration activities are “entirely without foundation,” the Democratic group wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday.

Dewhurst, citing a secretly recorded video of Battleground volunteers in Bexar County, had earlier called for a criminal investigation because of allegations that privacy laws had been broken.

But Graham Wilson, an attorney for the group, told Dewhurst in the letter that his call for a probe “reflects no familiarity with either the law” or rules promulgated by the office of the secretary of state, which handles voter registration regulations at the state level.

He said opinions from Attorney General Greg Abbott demonstrate that phone numbers gathered during the voter registration process were considered public information. Phone numbers allegedly copied down by Battleground volunteers sparked the accusations in the first place.

“In short, Battleground Texas is operating in full compliance with the law as set forth in the Attorney General’s legal opinions, and with attention paid as appropriate to the Secretary of State’s official guidance in this area,” Wilson wrote.

[…]

As for the phone numbers, Wilson cited three opinions from the office of the attorney general, including one from 2010 stemming from a case in Dallas County. In that opinion, Abbott’s office concluded that “the county may not withhold the telephone numbers” from a requestor who had asked for the information.

Battleground also cited a pamphlet from the office of the secretary of state that says in part that a volunteer deputy registrar “may also copy the relevant information from the application in writing just as you would be able to do if you went to the registrar’s office and pulled a copy of the original application.”

Wilson said the group does not photocopy voter registration applications and “has not used and is not retaining phone numbers taken off voter registration forms by volunteers.”

See here for the background. I’ve got a copy of the AG opinion here and the letter to Dewhurst, which shows him the level of respect he deserves, here. Not really a whole lot to add at this point – either a DA files a charge or convenes a grand jury (Abbott handed off to Bexar County DA Susan Reed, who last I checked was seeking a pinch hitter) or they don’t. Any lawyers want to take a crack at evaluating this one? BOR has more.

Yes, they fear what BGT is doing

Here’s the proof.

While saying it had received no complaint against the Democratic group Battleground Texas, the office of Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry suggested Wednesday that the group’s voter registration practices might rise to a “potential level of offense” of state election law.

Battleground Texas strongly disputes breaking any laws and said a flap over its registration efforts has Republicans running scared. At issue is a videotaped conversation with Battleground Texas volunteers in Bexar County. It was gathered surreptitiously by controversial conservative activist James O’Keefe, who has sent people posing as interested volunteers to infiltrate Democratic or liberal activist groups, after which he disseminates video that was secretly gathered.

In the video, an unedited version of which The Texas Tribune reviewed, a Battleground voter registration coordinator is quoted as saying the group takes phone numbers gathered as part of the registration process. She said the phone numbers would be used to call the voters close to election time to urge them to vote.

“Once we register people to vote tonight, we will all turn in our cards and our data person will enter, not all the information, but name, address and phone number,” the Battleground representative says. “We can then call everyone here and say, ‘Hi, I registered you to vote.’”

O’Keefe’s group, Project Veritas, which has been known to manipulate videos to make them seem more damaging to the people in them, claims Battleground broke state election law by collecting the phone numbers.

Whether Battleground did anything wrong in the process comes down to how the law is interpreted. Section 13.004 of the Texas Election Code says, in part, that county registration officials may not “transcribe, copy or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application.”

[…]

Battleground Texas spokesman Ellis Brachman said the group “fully complies with the law.” He also took note of O’Keefe’s controversial past, which includes a guilty plea to entering a federal building under false pretenses.

“Let’s be clear: James O’Keefe is an admitted criminal with a long and well-documented record of misleading attacks who is trying to make sure that fewer Texans are able to vote. The real story here is that Battleground Texas volunteers are patriotically working to get more Texans involved in our democracy,” Brachman said. “O’Keefe and his Republican allies in Texas are scared of our success and are doing everything they can to interfere.”

A Democratic election law expert, Buck Wood of Austin, expressed doubt that any crime occurred. He said the plain language of the statute makes it clear that the volunteer registrars are not considered to be county officials. He said the law was intended to ensure the government isn’t disseminating private information and doesn’t address what volunteers who get a phone number from a would-be voter at a county fair booth, for example, can do with the information.

So this allegation rests partly on the word of a proven liar, and partly on a ridiculous reading of state law. Good luck with that. Even Greg Abbott had no comment. All that’s left is the smell of fear.