A couple of weeks ago, news broke that the conservative American Phoenix Foundation (APF) had been covertly filming legislators, lobbyists, and media in Austin during the current legislative session, compiling over 800 hours of video evidence. Time will only tell the full extent of the misdeeds and malpractice APF operatives captured. The group is run by a husband-wife duo, Hannah and Joe Basel, who were involved in the take-down of the liberal, voter fraud organization ACORN.

However, the real story isn’t the tapes, but rather the cover-up that is currently developing. What initially began as a DPS investigation into strange interviews of legislators was leaked to establishment media – including Lauren McGaughy of the Houston Chronicle and Robert Garrett of the Dallas Morning News for further investigations. Those reporters approached Basel and APF who spilled the beans about their project.

Why legislators knew the details of a DPS investigation is a primary question. Which of those legislators decided to then further leak the information to the press is another.

Since word went out to the press about the project, Texans have seen more investigative journalism out of the state’s legacy press than they have seen in a long time. But in this case, the investigations are directed at Basel and APF, not the legislators.

Trial lawyer lobbyist and free-speech opponent Steve Bresnen joined in on the attempts to suppress the APF videos from ever coming to light. “He’s committing a felony,” Bresnen told the Houston Chronicle. “A lawsuit is in the can.”

Basel and his wife Hannah brushed off the Bresnen threats, noting that Bresnen and his wife Amy “are acting really guilty” for people who “haven’t seen any of the videos yet.”

But attempts to criminalize the journalistic efforts of APF were not limited to unhinged lobbyists. The Chronicle reported that the Texas Rangers were investigating APF, asking legislators if they had been subject to “political bullying.” Other establishment legislators have attempted to characterize the taping – which apparently took place in public places and at public events – as “stalking.” The effort to drape the project in criminal terminology is clearly designed to either scare off the Basels and APF, or actually procure an indictment against them.

Longtime political reporter Mike Hailey described the Capitol as “partially paralyzed” in light of the revelations. No one who was not involved in the project exactly knows what is on the group’s tapes, but from the attempts to suppress their release, it is clear that many legislators, lobbyists, and others in the political class have something to fear.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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