Phoenix Foundation, funded by self-proclaimed conservatives, tried to coordinate with Democrats

This article was originally published on the Quorum Report.

The group that secretly videotaped Texas lawmakers this year after receiving large donations from various conservatives, including higher ed critic Jeff Sandefer, attempted to persuade Democrats at the state and local levels to promote their videos, Quorum Report has learned.

The American Phoenix Foundation, which received at least $200,000 from Texas Public Policy Foundation Board Member Sandefer, tried to get the Texas Democratic Party and the Travis County Democratic Party interested in promoting videos of Republican lawmakers supposedly engaged in inappropriate acts, officials with the parties said.

Sandefer has also donated to Tim Dunn's Empower Texans and the blog site AgendaWise.

Empower Texans is now promoting some videos produced by the American Phoenix Foundation, which touts on its website that it is an investigative journalism initiative in the spirit of “investigative journalist James O’Keefe.”

O’Keefe, as our readers may be aware, is the conservative activist and “gotcha man” famous for highly-edited videos. O’Keefe, along with the American Phoenix Foundation’s Joe Basel, pleaded guilty back in 2010 in a plot to tamper with the phones in former Sen. Mary Landrieu’s offices.

As the foundation’s tactics were coming to light during the regular session of The Legislature, Sandefer told the Houston Chronicle that he was uneasy with the way the group was spending his cash. "We were unhappy with a lack of progress in training journalists and asked for the money back,” he said. “And we did not receive any money back."

After the session, the American Phoenix Foundation called the Texas Democratic Party offices in Austin asking to coordinate an event to publicize their undercover videos, according to the party’s Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia. “They called and offered to do an event with us but we were not interested,” Garcia said. “So, we did not call them back.”

JD Gins, Executive Director of the Travis County Democratic Party, said the Phoenix Foundation made the same overtures to the local party. “The person from the group who called refused to give their name,” Gins said. Refusing to divulge a name would be typical of the interactions lawmakers and journalists had with American Phoenix Foundation operatives during the legislative session, by the way.

“I don’t really exactly know why it would be a good idea for the Democratic Party to promote this conservative group’s videos,” Gins said. “It is definitely weird,” Gins said of a conservative-aligned group asking Democrats to promote their work. “Accountability among our elected officials should be bipartisan but we’re not interested in participating in their witch hunt,” he said. “Maybe they wanted us to stage their next ‘gotcha moment’ and we were just not going to do that.”

For his part, Joe Basel said that his group does not identify as conservative – despite the fact that all their known contributors have been self-identified conservatives.

“There isn't a single person in our organization who identifies as a conservative. We don't have a litmus test for donating to the Foundation,” Basel said. “We asked the Democrats for help because we like what we hear from many of their members about accountability and protecting Texans from corruption.”

Copyright October 19, 2015, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission.


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