Mentor of James O’Keefe connected to group taping lawmakers

A Texas lawyer that conservative video activist James O’Keefe described as a mentor and a genius has connections to the group that has been secretly filming lawmakers and lobbyists at the Texas Capitol.

Benjamin Wetmore lists with the Texas Bar Association the same post office box as the American Phoenix Foundation, which, according to a spokesman, has dispatched 16 people to the Capitol and events around Austin and has collected 800 hours of footage on lawmakers over the past six months. Additionally, the telephone number that Wetmore listed with the bar association goes to Joseph Basel, the CEO of the foundation.

Wetmore said he is the foundation’s general counsel.

O’Keefe told The New York Times in 2009 that Wetmore offered the advice to: “‘Take on the politically correct crowd on campus, satirically.’”

Wetmore referred questions to Basel or a spokesman about being an inspiration to the foundation’s leaders. Basel and the spokesman weren’t available for comment.  Wetmore did, however, add that “like most law grads I’m just grateful for having a job.”

O’Keefe, who became famous for posing as a pimp who trying to get advice from the community group Acorn about financing a brothel, said through a spokesman last week that he is not connected with the effort in Texas to show hypocrisy and bad behavior from lobbyists and legislators.

But O’Keefe, whose partner in the Acorn video would later become Basel’s wife, used to be associated with Basel. The two pleaded guilty to entering U.S. government property under false pretenses after being arrested in 2010 for allegedly trying to tamper with communications of a former U.S. senator from Louisiana.

Also Monday, The Houston Chronicle reported that the Texas Department of Public Safety told Logan Spence, the chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, that a group had been recording lawmakers before the news broke. But Spence did not ask authorities to brief senators because they didn’t appear to be targeted.

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