The Houston Chronicle reports that the Austin-based nonprofit the American Phoenix Foundation has been secretly filming Texas Republicans to later expose them as not conservative enough. John Beria, spokesman for the foundation, said that the group has had 16 staffers working on the project who have filmed more than 800 hours of covert footage of GOP lawmakers.
The undercover video campaign represents a new front by conservative groups to target incumbent Republicans and tilt the Texas Legislature further to the right. Several House Republican lawmakers already have expressed concerns with some of the group’s tactics, saying they aggressively were approached last week – inside and outside the Capitol – by men who used hidden cameras to secretly videotape a series of encounters that has raised alarms for Capitol security.
Lawmakers said cameras were disguised as lapel pins or hidden in a briefcase, and some characterized the incidents as harassment because the men repeatedly pursued legislators through the hallways of the Capitol and off Capitol grounds. One lawmaker was approached while eating dinner with his wife at a Tex-Mex restaurant in downtown Austin.
“It’s like they were almost stalking us,” said Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, who navigated a detour through the Capitol with another female lawmaker last Friday to avoid the group.
Beria confirmed the “visionary” behind the program to collect secret footage of state lawmakers is Joseph Basel, the CEO of C3 Strategies, an Austin-based consulting firm that worked on the campaigns of state Sens. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, and Konni Burton, R-Fort Worth. Basel said none of the taping was done through C3, and that his consulting clients were not involved in any way.
In 2010, a federal judge sentenced Basel and fellow activist James O’Keefe to probation and community service after they pleaded guilty to entering the New Orleans offices of then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu under false pretenses.
O’Keefe was the mastermind behind the 2009 secret taping at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. During the exchange, ACORN staffers appeared to offer O’Keefe and Hannah Basel – masquerading as a pimp and prostitute – advice on tax evasion.
Both Basels helped found the American Phoenix Foundation.
“It’s a sleazy campaign tactic,” state Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who was approached three times last week, said of the secret videotaping. “There’s some real scumbags in this business.”
Harless, the lawmaker from Spring, said she initially was approached last week by a man in an elevator after leaving a committee hearing. As the elevator doors opened, she said he peppered her with a series of questions and then zoomed away.
Harless said a Department of Public Safety trooper who observed the exchange told Harless that a badge shaped like the state of Texas on the man’s lapel actually was a camera.
Red is more than happy to watch the Right-Wing eat its own, but he draws the line at using a Texas shaped lapel pin to house a hidden camera.