Updated: Ethics Complaints Filed Against Petition PAC

Feb 5, 2016

The Austin Monitor reports: While the city clerk still has not received a promised petition seeking the recall of Council Member Ann Kitchen, the Texas Ethics Commission has received four complaints filed against the group behind the alleged effort.

Austin attorney Fred Lewis filed the four complaints on Friday morning. They name Austin4All PAC, Rachel Kania, Tori Moreland, and Joe Basel as respective respondents.

Lewis alleges that Austin4All Political Action Committee – also identified in the complaints as Austin 4 All PAC, Austin 4 All, and Austin4All – violated state election law “by knowingly accepting political contributions and making political expenditure over $500 without filing a campaign treasurer appointment.”

On Friday morning, Lewis told the Austin Monitor, “If you’re gonna engage in political activity, you need to disclose your donors. There are lot of people on the fringes these days who are doing everything they can to not disclose their donors, and it’s a really bad trend.”

His complaints also add that “other persons appear to have knowingly accepted political contributions and made political expenditures for Austin 4 All PAC, or aided and abetted it in such activities,” another violation of state law. Lewis identifies Kania, Moreland and Basel as those said persons.

Lewis cites as an exhibit in his complaints an article published this week in the Monitor. That article points out that no records establishing Austin4All PAC as a political action committee appear to exist at the Office of the City Clerk.

Kania and Moreland both identified themselves as co-directors of Austin4All PAC in a press release sent on Monday announcing that the group had gathered enough signatures to trigger Kitchen’s recall. At the time, both declined to comment on whether Austin4All PAC has any association with a nonprofit corporation named Austin4All that was created in Hays County in early 2014. The Monitor has obtained documents that list Joe Basel as the president of that group.

The Monitor contacted Basel on Thursday evening and was directed to submit questions via an email address he provided. As of Friday morning, Basel had not replied to those questions, nor had he, Kania or Moreland responded to a subsequent email requesting comment on Lewis’ complaint.

Both Kania and Moreland were in Iowa earlier this week for the Republican presidential caucuses. Kania was a senior field and tech director for the defunct presidential campaign of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, while Moreland works for CFB Strategies, a firm that counts among its clients the White House effort of Sen. Ted Cruz.

Austin4All PAC has repeatedly insisted that its effort to recall Kitchen is based on nonpartisan motives, but Basel’s involvement could give the District 5 Council member a strong argument otherwise. Several South Austin residents have reported that paid canvassers claimed they were being paid by C3 Strategies, a limited liability corporation whose registered officers are listed as Joseph Basel and his wife Hannah Basel, according to a document filed with the Texas Secretary of State in 2013.

The Basels gained notoriety last year when they deployed teams of activists to videotape lawmakers and lobbyists during the 84th Texas Legislative Session. The fruits of that work, done under the auspices of the American Phoenix Foundation, have since appeared on the website of the ultra-conservative advocacy group Empower Texans.

Before that, Basel was best known as one of four people, including infamous conservative activist James O’Keefe, who pleaded guilty to attempting to tamper with Sen. Mary Landrieu’s telephone in Louisiana in 2010.

Update: In an email responding to questions posed by the Monitor, Joe Basel clarified his role in the recall and explained that Austin4All and the Austin4All PAC “are completely separate, as required by law.” He explains, “(M)y understanding is that the PAC is compliant with all laws including disclosures etc. It’s a new PAC, I’m sure the agencies just haven’t updated yet.”

He wrote, “As you know, I’m involved with the effort, just like hundreds of other Austinites (thousands if you include all the voters of District 5 who are involved)… Sorry I can’t speak for the org. No scandal, no secrets, just a new org doing work rather than playing the PR game. If you are looking for the special interest and corporate funded story, you’ll have to stick to Ann Kitchen and her husband.”