By Chris Tomlinson
AUSTIN — When the recorded phone message asked Gene Malish if he supported Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis last week, he pushed the button indicating yes, and he kept pushing buttons until he’d given $500.
Then the 83-year-old saw his credit card statement and realized the money hadn’t gone to the Fort Worth senator’s campaign, but to a group called the Foundation for Justice for All. That led him to do a little searching until he learned on the Internet that the group specializes in robocalls to political progressives about social issues.
“I was looking forward to giving to Davis,” Malish told The Associated Press on Thursday. “After I found out it was what I consider a scam, I called … for the city detective.”
A tagline on the group’s website says it is focused on “forward thinking social advocacy.” But Bo Delp, Davis’ communication director, urged supporters to stay away from the group, saying the group was not connected to Davis’ campaign.
“We are aware of robocalls falsely posing as our campaign and asking for money,” Delp said. “It is disgusting that anyone would take advantage of hard-working Texas families looking to participate in their democracy and make Texas even better.”
Federal Election Commission documents list Marquita DeJesus of McKinney as the group’s director and Marcia Fern, also of McKinney, as the treasurer, while listing a mailbox in Washington, D.C., as the group’s office.
“We do advocacy for social justice issues like affordable health care, gun control and human trafficking,” DeJesus told The Associated Press. “We’ve been reaching out for some issues across America doing advocacy calls, but recently in Texas, we’ve trying to generate support for Wendy Davis.”
Democratic strategist Matt Angle showed The Associated Press online records from the Colorado Secretary of State that show the same attorney that is listed for Justice for All also represents several conservative groups based in that state.
“This group hasn’t made any effort to be in contact with the Davis campaign or, as far as we can tell, communicate with others, so we worry about what their real intentions are,” Angle said.
DeJesus denied she has any ties to Republican or right-wing groups, but said neither does she have any ties to Democrats or Davis.
Foundation for Justice for All raised money for gun control legislation after the Newtown shooting and during the Trayvon Martin murder trial, DeJesus said.
Malish said he felt duped after making the donation and said the group hung up on him when they called a second time to ask for more money and he asked for a refund.
A detective in Wincrest, a suburb of San Antonio, suggested Malish contact the Texas attorney general’s office and file a complaint because that office investigates deceptive trade practices. But Malish said he didn’t do that because Attorney General Greg Abbott is Davis’ likely opponent in the general election.
“If I called the attorney general’s office, I was afraid I’d divulge information they’d use against Wendy,” he said.
“Any Texan who believes they’ve been deceived by a telemarketer is encouraged to file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office,” said Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office.