A copy of more than 800 hours of video footage shot of Texas lawmakers by a nonprofit group tied to conservative causes has been turned over to Breitbart Texas, the news organization’s managing director, Brandon Darby, confirmed to The Texas Tribune late Sunday.
“Some of it is very newsworthy,” Darby said in a telephone interview.
Darby said the conservative news outlet has no plans to release the video made by staffers with the American Phoenix Foundation, an Austin activist group, until after the legislative session ends June 1 because he, his fellow Breitbart Texas staffers and their legal team have to go through all of it first.
“I don’t really think that something like this coming out during the ending of the legislative session is helpful to the state at all,” Darby said.
Last week, it was revealed that people working for the American Phoenix Foundation had followed and recorded Texas legislators. The American Phoenix videographers would often stop lawmakers, asking them questions about their positions on policy and votes, all the while videoing them using secret cameras.
The group is led by Joseph Basel, who told the Tribune in email on Sunday that the group had turned over a copy of the video to Breitbart Texas.
“Darby has a copy of what's been collected to date,” wrote Basel, who is listed as American Phoenix Foundation’s president on his group’s tax returns. “We want to give entire copies of archives to other trusted media outlets in the future after the project comes to completion.”
Basel said Breitbart has not been an “advisor, backer or investor” in the group’s project.
Basel said the group’s filming of Texas lawmakers began in December to expose what he says is the hypocrisy of both Republicans and Democratic politicians in Austin who fail to live up to their campaign rhetoric, both on and off the floor.
Although several lawmakers have reported that they were asked by American Phoenix undercover videographers about their support of House Speaker Joe Straus, the group insists it is not focused on Straus’ leadership, but instead on members in the House and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, who have reneged on their campaign stances or moral pronouncements.
“We're proud of the incredible hard work of our team, and we think the videos will speak for themselves,” Basel said in an email. “It's not going to make sense until you get to see the entire project.”
It has been alleged by the Basel’s group that they have captured evidence of personal indiscretions by lawmakers — something Darby alluded to on Sunday.
“Just to speak in general terms, I do think that if somebody sells themselves to the people as being a big family values guy and a family guy, I think there is a problem coming to Austin and having sex with people who are not their wives and sometimes in public places and I think that’s a bit of a problem,” Darby said.
Darby, who said he has viewed just a fraction of the video so far, said he learned of the group’s efforts a few weeks ago.
“What I do know of the footage at this point I’m definitely interested in it, but it’ll have to be reviewed,” he said.
In 2010, Basel pleaded guilty to entering federal property under false pretenses after dressing up as a telephone repairman as part of a scheme to secretly gather video in the New Orleans offices of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. Basel was eventually sentenced to two years’ probation.