At least three donors to the group that has been collecting video — sometimes secretly — of Texas legislators and lobbyists are tied together by a couple of common threads: connections to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, and a dream to see House Speaker Joe Straus removed from his post.
A foundation headed by prominent conservative donor Jeff Sandefer gave the American Phoenix Foundation $100,000 in 2011 and 2013. Sandefer, a former oilman, is a board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and gave $100,000 last year to state Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, who unsuccessfully challenged Straus for the speaker job at the beginning of the session.
Sandefer’s donations, and those of two others, were first reported by the Houston Chronicle on Thursday.
“We have thousands of donors, none of whom are trying to pull the levers of power through us. Former donors do not equal current projects,” Joe Basel, CEO of the American Phoenix Foundation, told the American-Statesman.
Some 16 people working on behalf of the group have collected more than 800 hours of video footage that will show hypocrisy and bad behavior — including sex, violence and corruption — on the part of lobbyists and Texas lawmakers of both major parties, Basel has said.
None of the video has been made available to the public, and foundation operatives continue to hang around the Capitol trying to talk to legislators.
Basel and others at the foundation have refused to say who funds the operations, and tax forms from 2010 and 2011, the only ones available, do not include donors. The group has failed to produce current tax forms, but other non-profits have listed the American Phoenix Foundation as a grantee in recent years.
Other donors include George Strake, an oilman and philanthropist, who gave the foundation $30,000 for training programs in 2012 though his Strake Foundation.
Strake, also a board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he wants to expose secret meetings in Austin involving lawmakers.
“They need to be exposed to the fresh air,” Strake told the Statesman.
The State Policy Network — a national collection of conservative think tanks — gave $25,000 in 2012 to the American Phoenix Foundation, according to tax forms of the network. The Texas Public Policy Foundation is part of the network.
Tim Dunn, a frequent critic of Straus and donor to many of the speaker’s foes, is vice chairman of the board of directors at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. According to an American Phoenix Foundation spokesman who identified himself as John Beria, Dunn is not a contributor.
Caroline Espinosa, director of communications at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, had no comment about the video-takers “as it does not directly involve the Foundation or our work.”